March 3, 2014

Patient experiences life without pain after scoliosis surgery

Neck, Back and Spine | Patient Stories


Audrey Symmes got a new lease on life after scoliosis surgery.

She got her scoliosis diagnosis at 11 years old after she had a forward bend test done at school. Audrey saw a specialist who had her wear a back brace for one year, but she did not seek any further treatment after that year was over.

But years later, Audrey would suffer from debilitating back pain and realize she needed surgery. Read on to learn about her journey and how her life has changed after scoliosis surgery.

Living with unrelenting back pain

“It turned out that I had a pretty decent S-curve with the lower spinal curve being the worse of the two; however, my scoliosis was not causing me any pain, and we had heard terrible things about corrective surgery,” Audrey says. “My only real issue with my scoliosis at the time was the physical appearance of my back.”

Audrey learned to hide the appearance of her back by wearing certain types of clothes. But, after high school passed, she started to have back pain, which continued through college.

“My back pain got so bad that I could not stand up for more than five minutes without being in so much pain that I was almost in tears,” Audrey says. “There were many times that I would have my husband push both my sides in as hard as he could to help hold me up. That way, he could support me since my spine didn’t provide me any support.”

Occasionally, Audrey would wear a soft back brace, but that only helped so much. She was unable to exercise and would have to lay down immediately following her workday.

Make an appointment with a spine specialist

Anything that required standing in line was out of the question for Audrey. Something as simple as going to the grocery became a significant challenge for her.

“I tried going to a chiropractor or a masseuse, but neither one helped me,” Audrey says. “The last straw was when I started to have nerve pain down my leg.”

The pain was caused by her spine pushing down on her nerve due to the S-curve of her back. She was hopeful this pain wasn’t something she would have to deal with for the rest of her life. So at 22 years old, Audrey decided to visit her family doctor, who then referred her to OrthoIndy spine surgeon Dr. David Schwartz.

Dr. Schwartz took X-rays of Audrey’s spine and determined that her curve had progressed even in the last couple of years. At that point, there was no other option. Audrey would need to have spinal fusion surgery to correct her curve.

“After I found out that I needed scoliosis surgery, Dr. Schwartz did everything possible to make me feel comfortable with the situation,” Audrey says. “He told me to take three months and think of any questions. Little did he know, I would come in with a typed sheet, front and back, full of questions. Dr. Schwartz took the time to answer every single one of them.”

The basic idea during a spinal fusion is to fuse together the painful vertebrae so that they heal into a single, solid bone; therefore, eliminating motion between the vertebrae. It also prevents the stretching of nerves and surrounding ligaments and muscles.

A spinal fusion may take away some spinal flexibility, but most spinal fusions involve only small spine segments and do not limit motion very much.

Relief after scoliosis surgery

“Surgery day finally came, and I was so nervous,” Audrey says. “Upon arrival to OrthoIndy, we were greeted by a kind lady at the front desk. Seeing how nice she was helped to calm my nerves right away. My husband and I were taken back to the surgery prep room, and all of the doctors and nurses came in to introduce themselves.”

During Audrey’s seven-hour surgery, her family was given a tour of OrthoIndy, so they knew where they were going. They were updated on how everything was going during the operation and what to expect after scoliosis surgery.

“The thing I liked most about OrthoIndy was the one-on-one attention I received from my doctor and nurses,” Audrey says. “I really felt like everybody cared about me as a friend, not just a patient. The nurses even celebrated all of my small victories during my recovery with my husband, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to take care of me.”

Learn more about OrthoIndy spine treatments

Life after scoliosis surgery

After scoliosis surgery, Audrey is now two and a half inches taller and hardly has any spine curvature. The next day after scoliosis surgery, she was able to walk and has been improving every day since. The scoliosis nerve pain in her leg has gone as well.

“My quality of life has improved greatly since my surgery,” Audrey says. “The recovery was so much easier than I ever thought it would be. I very rarely experience any back pain.”

Audrey is now able to swim, do Zumba, work and simply stand without pain. Over the summer, she went to several concerts and was able to stand the entire time. She even went on a trip to Washington D.C. and was able to walk around for a couple of days without any pain.

“I am so happy that I had the surgery, and I am so thankful that Dr. Schwartz and the rest of the OrthoIndy team were able to help me,” Audrey says. “My back doesn’t hold me up anymore, and I am so happy to have my life back.”

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