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Scoliosis Traction Program

three traction patients

Traction Sisters

After being diagnosed with a severe form of scoliosis, Ashley, Alissa and Mary received traction at Children’s National to prepare for the same spinal fusion surgery. (Photo credit: Jay Korff, ABC7)

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If your child has a severe spinal curve that is affecting his or her quality of life, preoperative halo gravity traction is a treatment that can help gradually straighten their spine over time and decrease the size of their spinal curve prior to surgery.

Traction Program at Children’s National: Why Choose Us?

  • Unique treatment option. We are the only program in Washington, D.C., as well as one of a small group of centers around the country, that offers preoperative halo-gravity traction. We treat about 6-10 patients every year and our program aims to gradually improve spinal deformity prior to surgery, improve pulmonary function in our patients and improve the safety of subsequent spinal surgery for patients with large spinal deformities.
  • Advanced traction system. Our spring-based system, available via both walker and wheelchair, is not used everywhere. This innovative system allows for more comfortable traction, it is a safer system and it offers better correction of the spine.
  • Patient education. We understand that wearing a halo device for most of the day can be difficult. Our dedicated team of nurse’s work to educate our patients before the halo device is installed, and our nurse practitioners manage the day-to-day care of our traction patients. Your child will also have the support of a physical therapist and nutritionist. Access our pre-surgical packet to help guide you through your child’s surgery date and beyond.
  • Patient-to-patient care system. Given the long hospital stay and the challenges of asking a child to stay in a traction frame, the orthopaedic surgery team tries to coordinate cases so that when possible, patients can support each other throughout the process.
  • Support services. Our Child Life experts ensure that your child is comfortable, upbeat and happy during their stay. A schedule is set up to ensure that your child receives home education, breaks from the traction system and a balance of fun activities. Our patients take field trips to Seacrest Studios and the Healing Garden, and are permitted to play videogames when they are away from their private rooms.

How Traction Works

During traction, the halo or ring device is fixed on your child’s skull using pins. Once the halo is attached, traction begins and the spine is elongated and stretched by weight that is gradually increased using our spring-based system. The device is adjusted to make sure that your child is comfortable and it can be used when they are standing, sitting in a wheelchair or lying down in bed.

Your child will undergo halo-gravity traction 3 to 4 weeks prior to their spinal fusion procedure in an effort to reduce the degree of surgical intervention that is necessary. For severe spinal deformities, this technique has been shown to improve the safety and effectiveness of the final surgical procedure, as well as reduce pain medication usage and medical stays following surgery.

Contact Us

For more information about the Scoliosis Traction Program, please call 202-476-5562. To schedule an appointment, please call us at 202-476-2112.

Scoliosis Traction Program Team

  • Matthew Oetgen

    Matthew Oetgen
    Division Chief, Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine

  • Ben Martin

    Benjamin Martin
    Associate Chief, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine

  • Shannon McClure-Kelly

    Shannon Kelly
    Associate Chief, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
    Orthopaedic Surgeon