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Bracing works better in Italy

Bracing treatment reduces the risk of needing surgery, but the proportion of patients who manage to avoid the scalpel differs between Europe and North America. The factor that makes the difference is patient compliance, i.e. a patient’s adherence to, and belief in, the course of bracing treatment prescribed. In this regard, Italian patients certainly come out on top. 
This is what emerged from a study conducted by ISICO entitled “AIS Bracing Success is Influenced by Time in Brace: Comparative Effectiveness Analysis of BrAIST and ISICO Cohorts”, which has just been published in the scientific journal Spine.

The study was based on a comparison of two populations of patients at high risk of surgery, which showed that, after bracing treatment, 39% of US patients go on to have surgery, as opposed to just 12% of patients treated by ISICO. The Italian institute sent clinical data referring to patients seen by its specialists to the University of Iowa, so that these data might be compared with those obtained in previous research published by the American group in 2014. 

“We worked in collaboration with the researchers at the University of Iowa” explains Dr Sabrina Donzelli, ISICO physician and author of the paper. “In 2014, our American colleagues published a randomized controlled multicentre trial called the “Bracing in Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis Trial (BrAIST)”. The resulting paper, by Lori Dolan and Stuart Weinstein, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their study, the most important on this topic in the past 30 years, involved 383 patients from 25 US and Canadian institutes studied between March 2007 and February 2011. It showed that brace treatment reduced the percentage of patients requiring surgery. Given that surgeons and families in North America have always had a rather negative attitude towards bracing (unlike those in Europe, where it is well received), the authors were surprised by this finding. We took the results of the BrAIST study as the starting point for our research, comparing them with our own data. Working with our American colleagues, we selected patient subpopulations comparable for disease severity and risk of surgery”.

This comparison was a demanding task requiring clarity: the Italian researchers and the American surgeons from the Children’s Hospital of Iowa measured the radiographs of the patients from the BrAIST study and of 169 patients being treated at ISICO, in order to objectively verify the data. 
What did the comparison show? That bracing treatment at Isico works better, with the proportion of at-risk Italian patients who actually had surgery found to be just a third of the proportion recorded in the American population (12% vs 39%). It also emerged that the ISICO patients, respecting the treatment prescribed, wore their brace for a far greater number of hours than their American counterparts.

“Patient compliance is crucial,” Dr Donzelli continues “Our patients are careful to respect their doctor’s prescriptions, and the doctors and patients enjoy a good relationship based on mutual trust and faith in the proposed treatment. All this adds up to great teamwork between the patient, his/her family, the doctor, the orthopaedic technician and the physiotherapist”.

Scoliosis: dance and swimming. Yes or no?

Is there any particular sport, rather than others, that individuals with scoliosis should choose? 

Two Isico studies have addressed this question, and in so doing they have dispelled the misconception that dance and swimming have a negative impact on scoliosis curves.

The studies in question will be presented in Melbourne, Australia, at the next SOSORT meeting, this year being held from April 27th to May 1st, 2020, during Spine Week.
As their titles show, these studies — Is swimming helpful or harmful in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis? and The effect of dance on idiopathic scoliosis progression in adolescents — explore the relationship between scoliosis and two types of physical activity: swimming and dance. 

Swimming and scoliosis

A few years ago, a previous Isico study, Swimming and spinal deformities: a cross-sectional study, exploded another myth.
It showed that swimming has no therapeutic benefit; in fact, the swimmers presented greater asymmetry and hyperkyphosis than the individuals who did not swim.
On this basis, it was concluded that swimming has a negative impact on posture and consequently is not an effective form of prevention. 

The aim of our latest study on swimming was to verify the safety of recreational versus competitive swimming in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis. 

Of 780 patients fulfilling the inclusion criteria, 529 (68%, 420 females, age 12.3 ± 1.3, 16.0 ± 3.6 Cobb degrees) regularly performed sports activities. 63 (12%) were swimmers, and 15 of these were competitive swimmers. 

“Compared with our 2013 study, in this latest research we did not consider healthy subjects” says Alessandra Negrini, Isico physiotherapist.
“We studied a sample of subjects with mild scoliosis (10-25°, mean Cobb angle 16°), not being treated with braces, and therefore only a clinical population. Our aim was to evaluate, on the basis of radiological findings at 12 months, the effect of swimming in individuals who already have a diagnosis of scoliosis and are going through a growth spurt (Risser-0-2, over 10 years of age). The effect of swimming was found to be comparable to that of other sports, and it was also similar in the competitive and the non-competitive swimmers. Age and hump size were the only factors found to influence the risk of worsening. These findings show that there is no reason to demonise swimming, be it recreational or competitive”.
In other words, they show that swimming is no better or worse than other sports.

Dance and scoliosis

Many spine specialists advise their idiopathic scoliosis (IS) patients to stop dancing on account of the risks (increased spinal mobility and flat back) that are potentially associated with the movements typically involved in this form of physical activity.
“The current literature reports a higher prevalence of scoliosis in subjects who practice dance than in their peers who do not dance” says Michele Romano, director of physiotherapy at Isico. ”In this research, we set out to assess the impact, in terms of the progression of idiopathic scoliosis, of dance compared with other sports in a group of adolescents (545 consecutive scoliosis patients)”.

The patients were divided into two groups: a Sport Activity group (SA – 461 participants), whose members performed any kind of sport, and a group of dancers, the Dance Activity group (DA – 84 patients).

“According to the results, the dancers showed a similar risk of progression as the patients performing other types of sport” Romano concluded. “The small sample size is one limit of the study; larger studies are needed in order to verify the effect of practising dance”.

Scoliosis: there is no particular sport that is more recommended than others 

So, what conclusions can be drawn from the two studies? According to the two Isico specialists, at present there is no evidence to suggest that any particular sport should be preferred over others, or that there is any sport that people with scoliosis should avoid.
Given that neither swimming nor dance, two of the activities most often discouraged for those affected by scoliosis, showed negative effects when compared with other sports, it seems unlikely that other types of sport might have a negative impact.
“The scientific evidence tells us that sport is good for us, and while it may not constitute a treatment as such (unlike specific exercises), it may have a positive effect, supporting the improvements recorded by those with scoliosis” says Alessandra Negrini, “as already shown by my study Effect of sport activity added to full-time bracing in 785 Risser 0-2 adolescents with high degree idiopathic scoliosis (which won the Sosort Award 2019). We at Isico have always believed that it is crucial for our patients to carry on doing sport, especially since their treatment can already be an uphill battle for them. In short, being able to carry on doing sport, something many of these youngsters are passionate about, can make it easier for them to accept the treatment.»

The criteria for evaluation of aesthetics in scoliosis

Our study “Construct validity of the Trunk Aesthetic Clinical Evaluation (TRACE) in young people with idiopathic scoliosis” has recently been published by the journal Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine.

The aim of this study? Scientifically validate the criteria of evaluation of aesthetics in scoliosis.

Indeed, we recall that aesthetics is recognized as a main outcome in idiopathic scoliosis (IS) treatment, but to date, there are no standard criteria for physicians’ evaluation.

Trunk Aesthetic Clinical Evaluation (TRACE) is a simple 12-point ordinal scale to quantify symmetry as a proxy of aesthetics. TRACE is already diffused worldwide and has been used in clinical research.

” In our study, that included 1553 participants (1334 females, mean age 13 years old), we aimed to validate TRACE and improve it with Rasch analysis – explains prof. Stefano Negrini, Scientific Director of Isico – the statistical technique allows to make more precise measurements.
Let’s take the temperature measurement as an example: is it hot, warm, medium, or a little cold? With this type of analysis we develop a real thermometer, obtaining a numerical data. The same criterion is applied to the measurement of the aesthetics, reliably and effectively, as well as objective because it derives from external observation and not simply from what the patient reports “.


The TRACE ordinal scale has been converted into a Rasch-consistent, interval-level measure of trunk aesthetics in IS patients and can be used to compare different populations.

TRACE can be used as an outcome measure and in everyday clinical evaluation of IS, even if new developments of the scale are advised – ends prof. Negrini – It is an objective tool, the only one up to now in the literature. The benchmark for the aesthetics in scoliosis which we want to improve more and more with use”