Our spine care

Expertise for all types of spine conditions

Expert medical care can make all the difference when your child has a spinal deformity. UW Health has a team of highly trained pediatric spine specialists.

We focus on pinpointing the cause of your child’s problemn then we create a treatment plan tailored to your child’s needs. With advanced imaging, highly trained providers and a full range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments, we help children with all types of spinal conditions.

Conditions we treat

Commonly diagnosed spinal deformities

Spinal deformities may develop before birth or in early or late childhood. Sometimes, another condition causes them. That might include a tumor, an infection or an underlying genetic or neuromuscular disease. Other times, no known cause is found. We care for kids with all types of spinal deformities, from the common to the complex.

Scoliosis is a condition that causes an abnormal curve in the spine. Often the curve is mild. But it can progress, and in rare cases, interfere with heart and lung function. Severe cases of scoliosis can be life-threatening.

Kyphosis is a curvature of the spine that can result in a hunchback. It often occurs during adolescence but can develop at any age. In mild cases, a child might have no symptoms or only feel some back pain. More severe cases can cause a visible hump on the back.

Spondylolisthesis begins with a defect or a stress fracture in one of the bones of the lower back. The problem area can increase, or the fracture might widen, making the spine unstable. When the bone slips forward, it results in pain and even more instability. This condition tends to be more common in young athletes.

Therapies we offer

Managing spinal deformities and helping your child thrive

Treatment will depend on your child’s specific condition and its severity. Factors such as your child’s age and whether they are finished growing come into play, too.

When we can, we turn to nonsurgical therapies first. For children who need surgery, we offer the most advanced procedures. In some cases, we have been among the first in Wisconsin to make these procedures available to children.

Many times, we can treat spinal deformities without surgery. Some of the treatments we offer include:

  • Observation and follow-up: An option for mild spinal curves. Additional treatment might be needed only if the curve gets worse.

  • Bracing: Can prevent the progression of a moderate curve until a child finishes growing.

  • Physical therapy: Can improve posture, strengthen the back and reduce symptoms.

Sometimes surgery is the best treatment option. This might be the case if your child’s condition is severe, is due to an infection or tumor or is causing persistent pain or other symptoms. Some of the surgical procedures we offer include:

  • Spinal fusion: Joins together vertebrae, or bones of the back. This treatment realigns the area of curvature or defect. As the vertebrae heal, they become a single bone.

  • Growth rods: A fusionless option for young children with severe scoliosis. It corrects the spine curvature while preserving spinal function, growth and motion. A surgeon implants an expandable metal rod that hooks to the top and bottom of your child's spine. Twice a year, the surgeon lengthens the rod slightly to help correct the curve as the child grows.

  • Vertical expandable prosthetic titanium rib (VEPTR): An option for severe scoliosis in a young child who is still growing. It involves a curved, expandable metal rod that corrects the curve of a child's spine. VEPTR also separates the ribs, making it easier for the child’s lungs to function.

  • Osteotomy: Removal of a portion of bone to correct a problem area.

  • Defect repair: A treatment for spondylolisthesis that stops pain but maintains back mobility. It involves removing the scar tissue around the defect in the spine. Surgeons then use a special implant to align the defect as it heals.

Doctors at UW Health continuously work to improve the care of children with spinal deformities. One area of research is guided growth procedures for scoliosis. These procedures correct abnormal curves while preserving spinal growth, function and motion. They involve placing implants near specific areas of the curve. The implants guide the direction the spine will take as it grows.

Meet our team

A highly experienced team caring for your child

Our pediatric orthopedic surgeons and pediatric neurosurgeons bring years of training and experience to your child’s care. As needed, they work closely with radiologists, genetic specialists, neurologists, physical therapists and other health care professionals. Our team approach helps your child receive the best care.

Our pediatric spine specialists

Our locations

Turn to us for compassionate, comprehensive care

When your child needs specialized care, trust the team at UW Health.

Patient stories

Complex spine conditions, big successes

The impact we have on children and their families is often best seen in their personal stories. Here are some of them.

Jacob loves playing sports but due to an undetected problem in his neck, he was one collision away from grave danger. UW Health's American Family Children’s Hospital’s pediatric orthopedic surgeon and neurosurgeon worked together to help get Jacob back to being an active kid again.
By the time she was in eighth grade, a rare condition caused Kiara to have severe scoliosis. It drastically reduced her quality of life. UW Health specialists performed a total spinal fusion and gave Kiara her life back.

Patient support and services

Information and resources

It's natural to have questions about your child's condition and its treatment. These resources provide helpful information: