Can Harrington Rods Break?

Harrington rods can bend, break loose from the wires, or worse, break completely in two, necessitating further surgical intervention and removal of the rod. Once the rod is removed, corrosion (rust) is found on two out of every three.

Below, are 2 radiographs of an individual with broken Harrington rods.

2 radiographs of an individual with broken Harrington rods.

2 radiographs of an individual with broken Harrington rods.

These x-rays show Harrington rods that bent and broke while still inside the patient’s body. Many surgeons will refuse to operate on this condition, leaving the patient with few options to alleviate their pain and suffering.

Rod removal is usually considered when there is local pain over the site of a broken rod or from a prominent hook. Often, however, only part of a rod, or one or more prominent hooks can be removed to relieve symptoms. The spinal fusions are often extremely solid and the new bone formation encases the rods and the hooks therefore removal of the entire rod may not be possible and one or more hooks may be left behind. The wound needs 2-3 weeks to then heal unless there is additional bone grafting needed.

Even with a solid fusion, about 10% to 15% of Harrington rods subsequently fracture, due to micro movement in daily activities. When rods break within two years of operation, it usually indicates fusion failure (pseudarthrosis) and it will need to be surgically repaired by more bone grafting and possible modification of the rods.

Forums discussing complications, pain and discomfort from malfunctioning Harrington rods:

“My dad has had metal rods in his back since 1995. They are horrible. He is in so much more pain than before and now every doctor says there is nothing they can do for him b/c the rods can never come out. I am trying to get him into the mayo clinic but so far haven't had any luck. He lives in constant pain.”

Read more: Orthopedics Forum – Broken Harrington Rod

“I had/have been having a lot of back pain. Last summer I went back to the dr. that did the surgery. That is when I found out that my rod is broken. I don't know when it happened. I just know I have constant pain in my shoulder blade on up. So, unfortunately, yes the rod can break. But, I do not know the solution.”

Read more: National Scoliosis Fondation Forumus

“My daughter had her titanium Harrington rods removed on May 24th. She was two years post injury, and had constant, deep pain in her lower back. She was also constantly nauseated, making it difficult to eat.”

Read more: CareCure Forums – Removal of Harrington Rods

“I was told the best they could do as a last resort would be to to cut off pieces at each end of the break.To keep the broken halves from banging into each other.The rods were grafted/fused to my back using pieces of my hip.I was told to remove them would be extremely difficult and there was a good chance I'd be worse off afterward.”

Read more: Spina Bifida Connection Support Forum-Broken Harrington Rod Pics

The Hudson Valley Scoliosis Correction Center offers a non surgical alternative for scoliosis treatment. For more information on our program of treatment and to see if you qualify, visit our Treatment & Care page.

Posted in Scoliosis Surgery
5 comments on “Can Harrington Rods Break?
  1. Shiela Bell says:

    I am looking for help with the fact I just found out one of my rods, placed in 1999, has broken. I knew I was going down hill recently, but had no idea when it broke. The surgery was for scoliosis and was tough to recover from. I was 44 then and 62 now. Anyone close to my age dealt with broken rod? SURGERY for repair, etc? I go to pain clinic to try to control pain, but it is constant. It fluctuates, but always there. Much pain behind shoulders (muscle spasms). Thanks for any input! sb

    • Karen says:

      Has your surgeon suggested having your rods totally replaced? I broke both my rods at L-4 level and I have had a significant increase in the pain. I had a consultation with my surgeon and recommended a spinal revision. Both rods will be replaced on the 8th of this month. I don’t know how my broke either. Maybe doing too much. Hope you fine peace within.

  2. Nachos says:

    It has been 9 months since I got the surgery, i’m 17 this year and just found out the possibilities of the rods breaking. I was told that it is uncommon but after reading everyone’s experiences, I’m starting to think that it’s actually common. How do I prevent it from breaking and just how common is it? I’m more than terrified

    • Hi Nachos,

      Rod breakage is a rare but possible issue.
      The rods are subjected to a torsional stress when the patient is active, and therefore usually only becomes a problem after significant time has elapsed since the surgery.

      Keep in mind that only patients with these type of problems will post about their surgery… the ones who don’t encounter any issues are not here!
      It is easy to think everyone has a problem, but it is not true.

      all best regards,

      Dr Strauss

  3. Carla says:

    Omg 3 rods fractured had repair 1 year later another broke the pain is horrific

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