Magnetic growing rods: exciting advances in the treatment of early onset scoliosis

Written by: Mr Colin Nnadi
Published: | Updated: 06/09/2023
Edited by: Top Doctors®

As young children grow, it’s normal that development of the spine varies case by case, and small curves are nothing to worry about – they are a regular part of the spine’s anatomy. However, not all cases are meaningless. While early onset scoliosis (EOS) is rare, it can develop any time between birth and the age of ten, so it is important to watch your child and check for the symptoms of the condition: leaning to one side, the spine becoming more apparent, and an uneven waist or uneven hips.


If symptoms like this present, and early onset scoliosis is a possibility, your child may be referred on to specialist surgeon like Mr Colin Nnadi. Here, he explains the latest developments in spinal surgery, and how they can benefit children diagnosed with EOS.



What is the traditional treatment for early onset scoliosis

Early onset scoliosis involves the development of a spinal curvature between birth and the age of ten. If untreated, EOS can have profound consequences on cardiorespiratory function and life expectancy.


In the UK, growing rods have been one of the typical treatment methods used. In this type of surgery, one or two rods are inserted under the skin, which span the curve and correct it over time. Their main drawback, however, is the need for repeated operations to lengthen the rod – these operations are usually performed every six months. Surgery may also be combined with other traditional treatments, such as a cast or brace fitted to the child.


However, new methods and approaches in the treatment of early onset scoliosis are being introduced, providing young patients and their families with new opportunities and different treatment paths. One such treatment is the use of magnetically controlled growth rods.


How are controlled growth rods used in the treatment of early onset scoliosis?

Non-invasive lengthening in the form of magnetically controlled growth rods was first introduced to the United Kingdom in 2009. The magnetic rod system makes use of sterile, single-use, implantable rods, along with an external remote controller.


Rather than having repeated surgical procedures performed, the rods are lengthened periodically through using a magnetic mechanism that converts rotational forces into axial distraction forces, which are used to both brace the spine during growth and prevent progression of the scoliosis.


How can magnetically controlled growth rods benefit the patient?

Magnetically controlled rods are an alternative solution to traditional growing rods, allowing support of the spine while controlling curve progression. Repeat surgery can be strenuous for both the child and the family, with the child frequently undergoing surgical procedures, sometimes as often as every six months. While the surgery is not complex and adjusts the rods and screws, it does need the child to go through rehabilitation, reduces activity levels, and carries a risk of infection.


Magnetic growth rods minimise the need for surgery – they are first implanted with a surgical procedure, but repeat invasive procedures are rendered unnecessary as the lengthening and shortening of the rods is performed as an outpatient procedure at a specialist clinic. There is no need for any type of surgery and the child can be home the very same day – much like a regular doctor’s appointment. This offers great benefit for families, as the child does not miss out on school time, experience long periods of downtime from regular activities, and does not have to go through periods of rehabilitation.


If you are interested in learning more about magnetic growing rods and how they could help you and your child in the treatment of early onset scoliosis, book an appointment with Mr Colin Nnadi to discuss possibilities.

By Mr Colin Nnadi
Orthopaedic surgery

Mr Colin Nnadi is an experienced, patient-focused spinal surgeon with a specialist interest in paediatric and adult deformity. He is clinical lead for orthopaedic spine surgery in Oxford. As a consultant orthopaedic spinal surgeon, he treats all manner of spinal problems, with expertise in a wide variety of conditions, including general spinal disorders, trauma and spinal infections, alongside fractures, degenerative spinal conditions and disc prolapse. He is also an expert in discectomy procedures.   

He undertook spine fellowship training at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London, and at the Norfolk and Norwich University Teaching Hospital. He was appointed consultant orthopaedic spine surgeon at Oxford University Hospitals Trust in 2008, and is currently the Clinical Director of Neurosciences, Oxford University Hospitals. He was Clinical Lead for the Oxford Spine Unit from 2017 to 2023.

He sees patients privately at the Portland Hospital and The Harley Street Clinic in London and at the Manor Hospital in Oxford.

Mr Nnadi sees 1000-2000 outpatient cases every year, performing on average one complex deformity case a week. His approach is friendly, patient-orientated, and allows patients and their families to understand his recommended treatment course and diagnosis.

Mr Nnadi is involved in research and development in the field of spinal surgery and was chief investigator for the UK multi-centre MAGEC rods trial in early onset scoliosis. In 2011, Mr Nnadi founded the internationally renowned Oxford Early Onset Scoliosis Meeting, and he has served on several international educational spine faculties. He is a regular faculty member at international conferences on paediatric spinal surgery, and is an ex-chair of the Growing Spine Committee, Scoliosis Research Society (SRS), and a member of the Paediatric Medical Device Taskforce for the SRS.

In 2015, Mr Nnadi published a book on early onset scoliosis, which is now sold worldwide, in addition to publishing various papers in peer-reviewed spine journals along with several textbook chapters. Mr Nnadi worked to develop national guidelines on the management of thrombo-embolism in spinal surgery, and between 2016 - 2018 he served on the NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) Venous Thromboembolism Guidelines Consultation Committee. He is a trustee for the Scoliosis Association UK and founder of the charity, Foundation for Early Onset Scoliosis.

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