View Full Version : Herrington Rod - Surgery in 1979

07-12-2006, 08:18 PM
I had my surgery in 1979 at age 13. Herrington rod implanted by Dr. Erwin w/ Dr. Herrington assisting in the Methodist Hospital in Houston.

Until recently, I've been very blessed with having a relatively normal back for 27 years. With only mild discomfort from cold weather and the obvious limited flexibility.

I've been reading about some of the problems associated with this surgery.

My problem now is the loss of feeling in my lower extremities when walking more than five minutes. It's so extreme, that I have to actually sit down or fall down.

I'm curious if anyone else has experienced similar symptoms.

I know there is an option to have the rod removed, but I'm not sure that this would be beneficial.

Best regards

07-13-2006, 11:38 PM
Hi Luke,

I just want to welcome you to this forum!!! :) I can't answer your question, but I'm sure someone will respond to you, and if not answer, at least steer you in the right direction.

Welcome again,

07-14-2006, 10:23 AM
Hi Luke...

You'll find a large population of people with Harrington rods here:



07-14-2006, 11:36 AM
I also had the herrington rod surgery. Mine was in 1983, by Dr Tupper in Seattle WA. I haven't had any major problems with my back since. After the birth of my last child, I do get some lower back pain occassionaly but that is about it. I just found this forum and I think it's wonderful. I never thought to search for it and came across it by accident. :)

07-15-2006, 04:57 PM
Hi All,

I had Harrington Rod surgery for a 68 degree curve in 1982 at the age of 20 at Boston Children's Hospital (I had worn a body brace from age 11 to 17 but lost the correction once the brace was removed). I am now 44. As I've aged I have experienced pain which I am sure is directly related to my curvature and fusion - including the type of pain people talk about on these boards... tingling, numbness etc. I have found that a regular exercise program combined with maintaining normal weight helps very much in controlling this problem. But I do have to be careful since sudden movements (such as getting up in the morning and just stretching my arms above my head) can sometimes create problems - like a stiff neck where I cannot turn my head for a few days. So, that said, there is an excercise program specifically for people who have had the old Harrington surgery. I went to Massachusetts (I live in Maine) and saw a doctor at the Spine Center at New England Baptist Hospital (Dr. James Rainville) who set me up with a great physical therapist who had been trained by the NEBH Spine Center. The PT had a practice here in Maine close to where I live, so it was convenient. Dr. Rainville thoroughly examined my spine and was very reassuring as the doctor who originally did my surgery died many years back. I have to be careful and do exercises properly (and often NOT like people without this surgery) because of the inevitable wear and tear to the lower vertebrea which really take the brunt of it all since so many of the others are fused. It was good to have a consult with someone like Dr. Rainville. You might want to try giving them a call at New England Baptist Hospital to see if the Spince Center could give you referrals for wherever it is you live in the U.S. The web address for the Center is: http://www.nebh.caregroup.org/display.asp?node_id=4167

Good luck,


Diana Black
07-16-2006, 02:51 PM
Since my op I've noticed the toes on my right foot get frozen very quickly in warm weather and it takes ages to get them warm again. is this usual or just a coincidence, anyone know?

Diana Black
07-16-2006, 02:53 PM
I meant cold weather, of course! (Is the brain addling another side effect?!)

08-01-2006, 12:46 PM
I had my surgery in 1975. They fused t12-l5. Over the years, my fusion grew on its own and fused l5-s1. I started having tingling down my left leg and uncontrollable pain in my lower back. I went to a neurosurgeon and they had to remove part on the "extra" fusion at l5-s1. It relieved my pain instantly. However within one year scar tissue built up and the pain returned (not as bad). I had the second procedure done 4 years ago and enjoyed one year pain free. Each year since then the pain has worsened and the docotr doesn't want to operate again because of the difficulties he encountered the first time and all the scar tissue. It is something to get checked because they might be able to offer you some relief.

08-06-2006, 07:02 PM
Hi Barbara,

I'm in Central Maine; and I too had a harrington rod put in and spinal fusion when I was 12. My back was a 54 degree angle and the summer before my surgury, I was in a lot of pain, so even back surgury didn't scare me! The only issues I had with my back after surgury was muscle pain between my shoulder blades when I studied for any length of time (at a desk, head down).

Now, I'm 25 years post-op; and I'm starting to experience problems, starting about two years ago. The muscles in my upper back and neck over- compensate for the muscles around my fusion that never had to do anything due to the harrington rod and fusion holding everything in place. Before we realized what was going on, I started suffering from major headaches, TMJ symptoms (ringing in the ears, fullness in the ears), and muscle spasms in my neck. Things got so severe that my hearing starting becoming distorted (planes flying overhead would HURT)....it was scary as h*ll. My primary care physician knew it had to do with my back; but couldn't figure out the best mode of treatment. PT didn't work, although flexeril took care of the exasperated hearing symptoms (muscle tension lessoned immeadiately with the flexeril, although it is still there). Finally I changed primary care physicians and went to an Osteopath. She does manipulations of my neck and head, which brings relief, although it isn't taking care of the problem long term. It seems like it's going to be something I'm going to have to live with. I'd be curious to know what the exercise plan specifically for those with Harrington Rods entails. I remember the spring after my body cast and brace, my orthopedic told me to walk for an hour a day to strengthen my back muscles. I may have to start doing that again....but with 4 kids and a full time job, it's hard to imagine where I'm going to find that hour!

And yes, for those wondering, I had healthy pregnancies, so healthy that two of my babies were at least 10 lbs! My OB didn't want to mess with my back by trying to have me deliver naturally (not flex in the back to push!), so we had planned c sections. My first one was the worst because they did try an epidural, which, with all of the scar tissue, it caused things scary as h*ll to happen when they tried to insert it. I ended up having generals with all of my kids. Fortunately, a good friend worked for my OB in delivery, and he let her just simply camcord the births and the happenings afterward while I was still out (Dad holding the babies, etc.).

I have one question that I'm curious to see if anyone else is experiencing.....My ribs never totally aligned in the back (when bending over), a small hump remained with the 18 degree curvature that was left after the surgury. We've noticed recently that the area of that hump is getting bigger, more swollen than anything. It's not sore, or discolored, but there's either fluid or fatty tissue (or scar tissue?) on that side of my back (the side that rod is fused in). I'm going to get a consult with an Orthopedic at some point in the future; but quite honestly, knowing nobody wants to mess with a harrington rod that's been in that long, I'm just going to try to alleviate the symptoms by everything I've seen on here: more exercise, better weight control etc.

Thanks for listening everyone....This is a great site that I wish I could have referred to when I was in my body cast for three months!! :)

Take care,


08-12-2006, 10:24 AM
In response to Mal in Central Maine: I still have a significant rib hump even though I had the Harrington. I don't believe it's possible to achieve 100% correction and expect most people do have a hump, at least a modest one. Because my original curve was so great - 68 degrees - they were unable to get the curve corrected below 35 degrees, though that's still much better. If I were you I'd definitely see a spinal specialist to check on what you're describing as fat or fluid in that area. You say you're in central Maine...I'm in York County just south of Portland and there's the Spinal Center at Orthopadic Associates of Portland (tel: 207-828-2100) or online at http://www.orthoassociates.com/spine1.htm

They might be worth checking out if you're looking for someone who knows something about this locally.

Good luck,


08-13-2006, 05:55 AM
Hi Barbara,

Thank you for the link and yes, I will check them out. I'm happy to report, though, that the fluid subsided with help of a diuretic. It seems to be swelling up like an old injury would on any other joint on hot and humid days. My primary care provider told me to stay away from the salt on days like that. My curve went from a 54 degree angle to an 18, with my rib rotation staying a bit off. You are right, they can't get it perfect.

Enjoy the beautiful day today!


08-15-2006, 03:09 AM
All of us that had the Harrington rod surgery are experiencing some sort of problems arent we.
Mal you had your operation when you were 12 so now you would be around 37 years old. I really think that it is a good idea as recommended for you to see a scoliosis revision specialist.
I think that as your rod has only been in 20 years you may be a good candidate for revision surgery and then you would be so much better.
I am only thinking that as I am 54 ,and left my run far too late to see a surgeon, I would feel so sorry for you to get to my age and be like I am.
My opinion only of course, but hey it wouldnt hurt and I wouldnt leave it too long either.
My ribs are off centre and I still have a "hump" on my right side, but am so very grateful regardless of what is happening now.
I agree with you regarding this forum how lucky we are all to have this available to us.

I wish you all the best

08-15-2006, 11:29 AM
All of us that had the Harrington rod surgery are experiencing some sort of problems arent we.
Fortunately, no. :-)

I think that as your rod has only been in 20 years you may be a good candidate for revision surgery and then you would be so much better.

The length of time that implants have been in, have little, if any, effect on whether someone is a candidate for revision surgery.


08-16-2006, 04:22 AM
Peter Turner who is a Revision surgeon over here in Australia told me that since my rods had been in for 40 years it was impossible to do a revision as they had just been in for too long. I guess that was why I thought it would be good for Mac, since hers have only been in for 20 years to go and find out.


08-16-2006, 11:25 AM
Hi Macky...

Unfortunately, it appears that surgeons in Australia just don't have the experience and training to do this type of procedure.

You can find a large number of patients who have had surgery to reshape their spines, including some who have had their Harrington rods removed after decades, here:


You can see before and after xrays of a Harrington rod revision surgery here:


I'm surprised to hear that you've had your rod for 40 years. The first idiopathic scoliosis surgeries with Harrington rods weren't until the late 60's. Were you in Australia? Did you have polio? (The reason I ask is that there is someone who is trying to put together a timeline for when surgeons were trained to implant Harrington rods.)


08-16-2006, 10:34 PM
Hi Linda, thankyou for your reply. I was operated on in the end of 1966 by Mr William G Doig. He, at the time was the only surgeon in the southern hemisphere that could do the operation, I found out at 13 (1964) that I had the type of adolescent scoliosis that comes on for no reason,( no polio)and I had to wait for 2 years before they could operate on me.
I had the old style of operation, you would know the one, with two rods inserted, I was an absolute mess waiting the two years as my back just deteriated so much.
Mr Doig has retired now, but before he retired he sent me a letter and told me that I also had had a lumbar scoliosis that compensated for the thoracic curve and that was why my operation was so complicated. I have two rods inserted. I was operated on in the Royal Melbourne Hospital at Frankston which is now an old folks home.

I have recently met an occupational therapist who told me that early in 1966 she attended the Royal childrens hospital in Sydney she was a young nurse then. She saw Mr Harrington operate on 5 young women with Mr William Doig in attendance. I guess he was learning how to do the operation. Anyway some of the outcomes werent too happy I am afraid. She told me that one actually died, 2 were paralized and two were ok.
I was the 7th person operated on in Australia. We both were so shocked that her work had bought here here to Launceston which is in Tasmania which is a suburb of Australia and we were to meet and is my occupational therapist. She is wonderful as she has seen the operation first hand she knows what I am going through.

I didnt think that there were any revision doctors over here in Australia, I mean REALLY good revision doctors. Peter Turner is I think mainly a scoliosis surgeon although he does look at patients like myself.
I hope that information will help the person who is doing the time line. I have looked at Yahoo and will continue to do so.
Thankyou so much for taking the time for those references that was so nice of you. I really wish with all my heart that something could be done. Maybe I will have to travel to America as my body is deteriating much like Elizabeth Mina writes will happen as some Harrington rod patients age.
Thanks again, you really are so kind.

Macky .

08-17-2006, 09:56 PM
According to my post-op patient information, Dr. Harrington started to do the instrumentation and fusion surgery in approximately 1962-63. At that time, however, he had only operated on about 400-500 patients. Dr. Harrington did my surgery in December, 1966 in Houston. Although the surgery was no longer considered experimental at that time, it was not performed in Philadelphia (where I was living) or in many other cities in the U.S.


08-18-2006, 01:57 AM
Hi Shelley, thanks for that information. I have just read all your posts and you seem to be doing really well. So good to see someone else who has had the rods in as long as I have.