Orthopedic Surgery

Spine Program

The Spine Program at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is one of the largest multidisciplinary programs in the world dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric spine conditions.

Each year, CHOP’s Spine Program provides early-onset-scoliosis
comprehensive evaluation and treatment to thousands of babies, children and teens with spinal deformities, trauma-related spinal conditions, benign and malignant musculoskeletal tumors, genetic cervical spine conditions and other conditions that affect the spine.

The Spine Program is a cornerstone of CHOP’s Division of Orthopedic Surgery, which is ranked as one of the top orthopedics programs in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report

The Division — which performs more than 3,500 orthopedic surgeries a year — has built a worldwide reputation for innovation, research and providing compassionate care to children.

Why choose us

Innovation and expertise of our multidisciplinary team

The Spine Program is led by John P. Dormans, MD, FACS, an orthopedic surgeon and chief of the Division of Orthopedics at CHOP. Dr. Dormans has developed several innovative surgical techniques for use in spine surgery and led many key studies in the area of scoliosis and pediatric spinal deformities with special interests in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, safety, tumors, cervical spine and spondylolisthesis. He has published extensively and is a member of the presidential line for the Scoliosis Research Society, an international organization dedicated to education, research and treatment of spinal deformities.

Accompanying Dormans are seven board-certified orthopedic surgeons — Keith D. Baldwin, MD, MPH, MSPT; Robert M. Campbell Jr., MD; Denis S. Drummond, MDMalcolm L. Ecker, MD; John M. Flynn, MD; Helen M. Horstmann, MDWudbhav N. Sankar, MD; David A. Spiegel, MD. Each physician has his own area of special focus among the hundreds of spine and spine-related conditions treated at CHOP.

At The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, we Illustration of the spinal cord
Illustration of the spinal cord.
practice collaborative, family-centered care. Our team of expert clinicians — including orthopedic physicians, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and other specialists — partner with you in the care of your child.

Together, the team has nearly 250 years of experience diagnosing and treating spine conditions in pediatric patients. By sharing their surgical knowledge, clinical experience and innovative research, CHOP’s Spine Program offers a depth and breadth of experience treating spine conditions that is unparalleled in the region. 

Every spine condition is different, so treatment at CHOP is determined on a case-by-case basis. In planning your child's individual treatment, our team of specialists will consider the severity of the spinal condition, where it occurs in the spine, your child’s age and stage of growth, as well as any other related medical issues. 

Integrated care to provide the best outcomes

The Spine Disorders Program provides complete care for children with a wide range of spine deformities.

We offer:

Research into disease origins and better treatments

Clinicians at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are actively researching a range of spinal deformities, surgical techniques, and ways to make spine surgery safer. 

Orthopedic physicians regularly collaborate with The Center for Applied Genomics at CHOP, one of the world's largest genetics research programs and the only center at a pediatric hospital to have large-scale access to state-of-the-art throughput genotyping technology.

CHOP is also a major contributor to collaborative orthopedic research on a national and international scale. Our orthopedic surgeons are members of the Scoliosis Research Society, the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America, Orthopedics Overseas and SICOT USA. Additionally, CHOP orthopedic surgeons serve as mentors to dozens of orthopedic fellows from around the world.

Recent research at CHOP, led by Struan Grant, PhD, associate director of the Center for Applied Genomics, identified a gene mutation as a potential cause of idiopathic scoliosis. The research won a Hibbs Award from the Scoliosis Research Society, an international organization dedicated to the education, research and treatment of spinal deformities.

Some current spine research at CHOP includes:

With research, orthopedic leaders at CHOP hope to be able to better predict and treat pediatric spine conditions.

Spine conditions and treatments 

The Spine Program treats pediatric patients with all spine anomalies, disorders and conditions. For information about specific diseases that affect the spine, see Spine Conditions We Treat

Spine surgeries available at CHOP include:

Posterior spine fusion

During the spinal fusion operation, the bones in the back are joined together with bone taken from the hip bone or pelvis. Metal rods are placed alongside of the spine to hold the bones in a straight position while the bone graft heals. The extra bone from the hip or pelvis helps knit the bones together. This surgery is ideal for patients who have reached skeletal maturity.

Growing rods

For children who are still growing and have not reached skeletal maturity, growing rod implant surgery is often the recommended treatment to correct the spinal curve and allow continued growth of the spine. 

Growing rod surgery is done through the back of the spine. In most cases, the curve in the child's back is spanned by one or two rods under the skin to avoid damaging the growth tissue of the spine. The rods are attached to the spine at two spots — above and below the curve. Every six months, the child returns to the Hospital to have the rods expanded to keep up with the child's growth. 

When the child has finished growing, generally the rods are removed and a spinal fusion is performed.

Vertical expandable prosthetic titanium ribs (VEPTR)

For children who have a spine condition that is impacting the growth of their lungs, VEPTR may be appropriate. Invented by CHOP orthopedic surgeon Robert M. Campbell Jr., MD, VEPTR was created as a treatment for thoracic insufficiency syndrome, a rare congenital condition where a child's spine is curved, ribs may be missing, and the child's lungs cannot fully develop. 

VEPTR is a curved metal rod that is surgically attached to a child’s spine, ribs or hip using hooks on both ends of the device. VEPTR straightens the child's spine, separates ribs and expands room in the chest cavity for the child's lungs to expand and grow as the child does. Like growing rods, the VEPTR device needs to be expanded every six months as the child grows. When the child has finished growing, generally the VEPTR device is removed and a spinal fusion is performed.

CHOP is one of the few facilities in the world to offer VEPTR surgery — and no others offer the expertise of the device's creator. In 2009, the Hospital created the Center for Thoracic Insufficiency Syndrome, the first national multidisciplinary program devoted solely to the treatment and research of thoracic insufficiency syndrome. 

Meet our Spine Program team

Orthopedic surgeons

Contact us

To schedule an appointment with the Spine Program, call 215-590-1527 or contact us online.

Reviewed by: John P. Dormans, MD, FACS
Date: March 2013

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