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Congress in Bulgaria: Michele Romano awarded

In Sofia/Bulgaria, September 11-12, 2021 the VIII National Congress of the Association of Physiotherapists in Bulgaria: “Interdisciplinary approach and current trends in practice” took place. 
Both the current trends in practice on a national and global scale, as well as the future development of the profession in Bulgaria were discussed during the Forum. The scientific program once again provided an opportunity for the exchange of information and innovations in the field of physiotherapy and rehabilitation – national experience and world achievements.
The congress had a special section for the treatment of scoliosis and Michele Romano, head of physiotherapy in Isico, gave two presentations.
One was titled “Scientific Exercises Approach to Scoliosis (SEAS)” and the second one focused on “Scoliosis Manager”: the Isico web tool for patients’ management available free for everyone. In its protected version adapted to Isico’s internal clinical and rehabilitation needs, it is the daily working tool for Isico’s expert professionals. 
Further to giving these two presentations, Michele Romano was awarded a commemorative plaque by the Bulgarian Association of Physiotherapy, who wanted to express with this recognition their gratitude for his ongoing commitment and dedication in the field of physiotherapy.

My brace has helped me to grow up!

I’m Ilaria, and I have spent the past 6 years wearing a scoliosis brace.

At last, on 28/6/2021, after countless sacrifices, many, many moments when it felt like everything was against me, and others when things seemed to be going better, I finally came to the end of my “journey” with ISICO.

In spite of the difficulties I had along the way, as time went by my check-ups became increasingly encouraging, my back stabilised, and I was able to leave my brace off more and more; also, thanks to the exercises, the cosmetic appearance of my trunk improved.

There have obviously been lots of ups and downs over these years, but these have helped me to grow up: I now know that the low points teach you the importance of persevering, of keeping your head held high and always looking for the positive side of things.

Through wearing a brace, I have come to realise that I was a rather superficial person before. However, over time I have matured, and in fact, I learned to really appreciate the true value of situations and times spent both in and out of my brace.

My brace also helped me to appreciate what people really thought of me, and how much they cared about me.

When I first started wearing a brace, in the 4th year of primary school, my classmates and teachers didn’t know at all what it was for or understand why I needed to wear it. For them, there was no point to it, whereas I realised that it represented my “salvation”.
Luckily, over time and in my next school I came across people (classmates and teachers) who knew more about it and were always very supportive.

One very important factor in getting me to the point I’ve reached today was the “brace camp” holiday, organised by ISICO, that I had on the island of Asinara in Italy in 2018. There, I made some lasting friendships and learned that wearing a brace on holiday was no big deal, even if I could only leave it off for a few hours a day.

During that holiday, the physiotherapists taught us that doing postural exercises for our backs could actually be fun. They encouraged us and helped us to “put up” with keeping our braces on for the prescribed number of hours. What’s more, even though we weren’t able to spend very much time with our braces off, we were still able to enjoy the sea and the natural surroundings. They even taught us how to go in the water in a brace.

In the course of this whole experience, I have met many different people, with different stories, and this has helped me to see that while everyone at ISICO is on the same journey, each person experiences and approaches it in their own way.

I want to thank Dr Monia Lusini, who has always been a great support, whatever the circumstances, but my most heartfelt thanks go to my parents, who have always been there for me through thick and thin, supporting me and encouraging me not to give up and always to be proud of myself and persevere.

My parents are amazing, always ready to do anything for me and give me whatever I need.

Finally, I hope the things I have said might be of help to lots of other young brace wearers out there!

My message to them is: stay strong and stay brave because in the end all your sacrifices and hard work will pay off. Before you know it, you will be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel!

And don’t forget! Go in the sea as often as you like… just slip on your brace undershirt, brace and swimming costume and go for it! After all, there’s nothing quite like a refreshing dip ❤️

Bracing + exercises + consistency = a recipe for successful treatment!

Idiopathic scoliosis is a disease that causes abnormal growth of the spine. Once a spinal curve has appeared, the vertebrae of a young patient are liable to become deformed in the three planes of space. This risk persists until he or she has finished growing.
Through conservative treatment, we aim to ensure that our patients, as adults, will have a strong back. In other words, we want them to reach adulthood with a healthy and functional spine, and that does not necessarily mean a perfectly straight one!

Medical therapy is therefore undertaken in order to try and limit the natural worsening of scoliosis curves through treatments proportionate to the severity of the condition.

To this end, there exist two main methods: specific physical exercises and bracing, and both need to be applied correctly and with the necessary constancy.

To decide whether a young patient needs to be prescribed a brace, the treating physician considers a series of factors, for example the size of the curve, the patient’s bone age, and whether or not he/she presents asymmetries (of hips, pelvis, scapulae, shoulders and so on).

When bracing is deemed warranted, we urge our youngsters to adhere scrupulously to the instructions given in order not to compromise the effectiveness of the treatment, and indeed to obtain the best possible correction.
This means that they must fasten and tighten their brace correctly, as shown by our doctors during the testing phase. If they do this, their brace will be less visible under their clothing; it will also be less prone to move about when they are walking, running and even sitting, and therefore more comfortable.

In addition to being more visible under clothes, a brace that is worn too loosely is less effective: it will not give the results that would have been achieved by wearing it properly.

According to data we have gathered, bracing treatment should produce its most marked results in the first months, and adhering to the prescribed number of brace-on hours is what makes the difference in this regard.

Bracing treatment is always prescribed together with specific physical exercises, i.e., 15-20 minutes per day of spinal self-correction and stabilisation exercises that help patients get into the habit of regularly correcting their posture themselves, even during the hours they are permitted to leave their brace off. 

We constantly remind our patients that whenever they remove their brace, self-correction becomes all important, and that “voluntary and active” self-correction works just like the brace itself does. Clearly, though, this demands good self-awareness on their part and a willingness to collaborate.

In “Specific exercises performed in the period of brace weaning can avoid loss of correction in Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS) patients: Winner of SOSORT’s 2008 Award for Best Clinical Paper”, we  showed that patients who regularly did specific exercises obtained a stable result when they finally stopped wearing their brace. Instead, those who did specific exercises discontinuously showed a worsening of a few degrees, while the curves of those who did no exercises at all worsened by an average of 10 Cobb degrees or more.

And it is important to remember that all these patients were prescribed the same type of brace, and the same number of bracing hours.

Brace weaning, which is carefully monitored by the physician, must be done extremely gradually, as the spine needs time to adapt to the absence of an external support. This is particularly true in the case of patients treated for very severe curves. During this delicate phase, self-correction exercises become even more important, helping to prevent the spine from once again collapsing in the direction of the curve. 

We often say that strength comes from within: a patient’s own determination to wear his/her brace consistently and do his/her exercises correctly will together help to ensure that conservative treatment is a success – and it is important to understand correction of the scoliotic curve is not the only measure of success. Success also means stabilising the curve and curbing its tendency to worsen as the patient grows.

Andrea’s story

Hi, I’m Andrea. It’s now been nearly two years, and I finally feel ready, and brave enough, to speak out.
Over time, I have come to realise that people are often judged for the way they look and not for who they really are. So, I may not have a six-pack with super-toned abs, and I haven’t got a straight back like other teenagers, but to be honest, none of that worries me anymore.
It is the people who can see your worth without bothering about your appearance who really love you for yourself. I am now half-way through a journey that seemed endless to begin with. I spent an entire year wearing this thing for 23 hours a day.
I had to cope with a whole summer when I couldn’t spend more than an hour a day by the sea, and holidays when I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing, and I was always finding excuses not to go out simply because I was too ashamed to admit that I had, and have, this “problem”.
Now, though, I am perfectly happy with who and what I am, and I know that the people who really care about me will continue to be there for me come what may.
I’d like to dedicate these few lines to myself, to acknowledge the fact that, after the initial tears and the anger at not being able to have a “normal” adolescence, I have finally grown self-confident enough not to feel ashamed.
This is not one of life’s real problems, it’s just an obstacle I need to overcome in order to become a better person. I am proud of who I am today. 

Scoliosis: why choose rehabilitation treatment?

I have scoliosis. What should I do? Do I absolutely have to follow a treatment, or is there no point? Will I need to be operated on? These are questions we often get asked by patients who have been diagnosed with scoliosis.

Therapeutic approaches to scoliosis fall into two categories: surgical treatment, indicated only in a limited number of cases, and conservative treatment, which we prefer to call rehabilitation treatment. This latter category comprises different approaches, which are based on the severity of scoliosis. 

First of all, there is simple clinical observation (for very mild cases), then treatment based on specific self-correction exercises (for mild scoliosis), and finally bracing (for the treatment of moderate forms). The braces used can be elastic, rigid or super-rigid. The choice of brace type and the number of prescribed brace-wearing hours (treatment dose) are always determined by two key factors: the severity of the curve(s) and the risk of worsening.

Even though surgical techniques have improved enormously over the years, surgery for scoliosis always entails vertebral fusion, and thus a complete loss of mobility (function) of the section of the spine involved, which is transformed into a single bone. It is the most difficult surgery in orthopaedics (apart from surgery for severe poly-trauma), and naturally it carries all the risks that derive from the fact that the spine encases and protects the spinal cord, which contains all the connections between the brain and the lower limbs.  

Rehabilitation treatment, therefore, must always be considered the first-choice treatment for scoliosis. This even applies to “surgical curves” (i.e., those with a Cobb angle greater than 45°–50°), if no attempt has ever been made to correct them through full-time bracing and specific exercises (1). In short, surgical treatment is used only when rehabilitation treatment has failed.

What are we aiming to achieve through rehabilitation treatment?

Basically, we are aiming to obtain a back that is not only strong and efficient but also aesthetically pleasing. This is, indeed, one of our main objectives, given that a person’s quality of life is strongly influenced by how they see themselves physically. Therefore, a brace needs to be built in such a way as to reduce the external deformity as well as the magnitude (i.e., the Cobb degrees) of the curve(s). In this regard, it is very important to underline the importance of preventing scoliosis from worsening, especially in puberty when it is at the greatest risk of doing so. Reducing the Cobb degrees of a scoliotic curve is always an objective, but given that scoliosis in puberty almost always worsens unless it is treated properly, simply blocking the evolution of the condition must, in itself, be considered a successful result.

Through rehabilitation treatment, we also try to prevent the onset of back pain in adulthood. To this end, as well as treating any pain that occurs in childhood and adolescence, we also do our best to preserve, as far as possible, the physiological curves present in the sagittal plane. Several studies have shown that back pain in adults with scoliosis is highly correlated with abnormalities in the sagittal plane, even more so than with scoliotic curve magnitude (2). And unfortunately, over the years, scoliosis that exceeds certain levels tends to progressively worsen; as a result, for purely mechanical reasons, the trunk progressively falls forwards.

Finally, rehabilitation treatment aims to prevent the respiratory system problems that can arise due to progressive deformation of the rib cage in the presence of a severe thoracic curve.

All these objectives were extensively discussed, and identified as therapeutic priorities, by international experts from the International Society on Scoliosis Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Treatment (SOSORT) during the drafting of the SOSORT Guidelines (3). 

(1) Lusini M, Donzelli S, Minnella S, Zaina F, Negrini S. Brace treatment is effective in idiopathic scoliosis over 45°: an observational prospective cohort controlled study. Spine J. 2014 Sep 1;14(9):1951-6. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2013.11.040. Epub 2013 Dec 1. PMID: 24295798.

(2) Diebo BG, Shah NV, Boachie-Adjei O, Zhu F, Rothenfluh DA, Paulino CB, Schwab FJ, Lafage V. Adult spinal deformity. Lancet. 2019 Jul 13;394(10193):160-172. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(19)31125-0. Epub 2019 Jul 11. PMID: 31305254.

(3) Negrini S, Donzelli S, Aulisa AG, Czaprowski D, Schreiber S, de Mauroy JC, Diers H, Grivas TB, Knott P, Kotwicki T, Lebel A, Marti C, Maruyama T, O’Brien J, Price N, Parent E, Rigo M, Romano M, Stikeleather L, Wynne J, Zaina F. 2016 SOSORT guidelines: orthopaedic and rehabilitation treatment of idiopathic scoliosis during growth. Scoliosis Spinal Disord. 2018 Jan 10;13:3. doi: 10.1186/s13013-017-0145-8. PMID: 29435499; PMCID: PMC5795289.

ISYQOL: Polish adaptation study published

The study Polish Adaptation of the Italian Spine Youth Quality of Life Questionnaire has just been published (Edyta Kinel, Krzysztof Korbel, Piotr Janusz, Mateusz Kozinoga, Dariusz Czaprowski, Thomas Kotwicki), developed by the University of Medical Science of Poznan and from Olsztyn University, Bydgoska for the adaptation of our Italian Spine Youth Quality of Life Questionnaire (ISYQOL) into Polish (ISYQOL-PL).

Recall that ISYQOL is the questionnaire developed by Isico that measures the health-related quality of life of adolescents with spinal deformities and has proved particularly appropriate in patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) not treated surgically.
The questionnaire is available for free online on a dedicated website, where you can also find the English and Polish versions of the questionnaire:   https://www.isyqol.org

The study aimed to carry on the process of the cultural adaptation of the Italian Spine Youth Quality of Life Questionnaire (ISYQOL) into Polish (ISYQOL-PL). The prior hypothesis was: the ISYQOL-PL questionnaire is reliable and appropriate for adolescents with a spinal deformity. Fifty-six adolescents (mean age 13.8 ± 1.9) were enrolled.
The ISYQOL questionnaire is based on patients’ concerns and has been shown to be particularly appropriate in AIS and SJK patients undergoing non-surgical management. The ISYQOL is a 20 items questionnaire. The process of the cross-cultural adaptation of the ISYQOL-PL was performed following the guidelines set up by the International Quality of Life Assessment (IQOLA). The implementation of this method includes the following steps: forward translation, back-translation and expert panel, pre-testing and cognitive interviewing, development of the final version. The total sample size was decided based on previous recommendations for validation studies.

What about study’s conclusions? “The ISYQOL-PL is a brief and practical tool for quantifying HRQoL in adolescents with a spine deformity – comments the coordinator of the study, the spine surgeon Dr. Tomasz Kotwicki from the Department of Spine Disorders and Pediatric Orthopedics –  Filling in the questionnaire takes less than 10 minutes to be completed. The ISYQOL-PL questionnaire is reliable and can be used in adolescents with spinal deformities”. 

Full text available here:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34066225/

Simona’s story

Hi, I’m Simona, and, like many of you, I wear a back brace. My “brace-wearing” journey began some years ago. To be precise, it was 26 October 2017 when I got my first Lyon brace. How could I forget it?!

I had discovered my scoliosis in May that year, after suddenly realising, during a PE lesson one day, that there was something wrong with me. During a run, I felt a very sharp pain in my shoulders, so I stopped and asked my PE teacher what might be the reason.

 She asked me to bend forwards, and after checking me over and getting me to do some movements, she said I had one shoulder higher than the other.

After talking over the problem at length with my parents, we went to a hospital to see an orthopaedic specialist. Needless to say, it was a disaster, partly due to the doctor’s lack of empathy: according to him, I needed to wear a Milwaukee brace for 18 hours a day!

The first time I saw an X-ray of my back, I was shocked, as I hadn’t seen anything like it before. I felt like a freak, also because up until that point, I had never even heard of scoliosis. I had no idea what it was. After realising that this doctor would not be at all interested in helping me cope with the considerable psychological impact of having to wear a brace (and I could already see that this was going to be considerable), my parents and I decided it would be better to consult another doctor.

That is what we did, and we couldn’t have found a better one! He turned out to be the best doctor ever: from our very first meeting, he always wanted to hear my opinion, even though I was still only young.

Thanks to him, I was able to embark on this bracing adventure with much more peace of mind. He prescribed me a Lyon brace with a removable neck support (8 hours of wear per day) to treat my cervical spine too and a right shoe-lift. Since then, I have had two new braces and two new shoe-lifts, and the treatment has reduced my degrees of curvature considerably. 

I can’t deny that having to wear a brace still had a strong psychological impact on me, but with the help of my family, my physiotherapist and my doctor, I managed to cope. And even though it’s not over yet, I know that the worst part is now behind me.

 I am very proud of all that I have achieved. My message to anyone else who wears a brace, or needs to start wearing one, is this: wear it as much as you can, and always for all the hours your doctor tells you to! The reason I have improved so much is that I have always worn mine even more than I had to. You’ll probably be really amazed to learn this, but I have actually decided that I want to train to be an orthopaedic specialist one day! 

Yesterday, I told my doctor this, and he was surprised. But it’s true! He has always been so kind and understanding with me. Thanks to him, I have even grown quite fond of my “condition”!  So, make sure you find a good doctor, and above all, one who treats you not as a laboratory animal but as a person who needs more than just physical attention. One day I want to be able to help other people get through what I have been through, and I’m still going through. If I succeed, I’ll be really proud of myself! 

I know this is rather a long message, but I have been a reader of this blog for so long now. The doctors who write it have often given me the answers I needed, and since it has often helped lift my spirits in blacker moments, I decided I should now share my story in the hope of encouraging others too!

eSosort2021: ISICO awarded for the third time in a row

And the winner is: Isico! For the third consecutive year, our Institute has been awarded the highest international recognition for those involved in the rehabilitation treatment of vertebral pathologies. On Saturday, May 1st, on the occasion of the annual SOSORT conference, this year in online mode due to the pandemic, our studio “Efficacy of bracing in infantile scoliosis. A 5.5 years prospective cohort shows that idiopathic respond better than secondary” was awarded the SOSORT Award. 

It is not the first time, because only in the last two years Isico has won the coveted international recognition for the best research by SOSORT, to which is added, in 2019, the award won as co-authors of a research study in collaboration with the University of Hong Kong. A truly unique continuity.
“An award that once again certifies the high quality achieved by the scientific research carried out in our Institute at an international level – explains Prof. Stefano Negrini, scientific director of Isico and first author of the awarded research (the other authors are Dr Sabrina Donzelli, Dr Greta Jurenaite, Dr Francesco Negrini and Dr Fabio Zaina) – through this research the main goal was we have set ourselves the goal to check the results in the medium term of bracing of infantile scoliosis, comparing the two groups: idiopathic and secondary scoliosis.”
According to Mehta results, casting is considered the gold standard conservative treatment for infantile scoliosis, still casting requires repeated general anaesthesia, and recently doubts have been raised that this could cause potential brain damages in the long term. 

“In our Institute, we have been using bracing for a long time to reduce invasivity for the patient – says Prof. Negrini – Moreover, the results of the Sforzesco brace have shown to be similar to casting in adolescents. Thanks to the clinical and research experience gained over the years, we have developed a retrospective study in a prospective cohort. We have been using braces since 2004 and have been able to present the largest case history on braces to date (34 patients), with an average follow-up of 5 years, documenting excellent results in idiopathic scoliosis (success in 50% of cases – only one failure), while in those secondary to other pathologies it is possible to delay surgery over time even in the face of more frequent failures (surgery inevitable in 20% of cases)”.
We remind you that infantile scoliosis is very rare, about 1 case in 10,000 children, and for this reason, it must be treated by very expert and dedicated specialized clinics with specialists who  have been managing spine deformity for long and have a rich clinical experience
“In this context, we are also the only Italian structure that is participating in an international multicentre study, which involves clinical centres in 40 countries around the world, to verify the effectiveness of braces compared to casts – concludes prof. Negrini – During the two-year duration of the project, we will bring about 5 cases treated at our Institute for research purposes. Isico has several years of experience in the use of braces, our participation will not include the application of casts, but our results in bracing will be compared with those of other centres that apply casts”.

Daytime versus night-time bracing: what to do when scientific evidence is of no help?

When we sit down in front of a doctor, we often expect him or her to have the solution to all our problems, but of course this is not the case. Unfortunately, that isn’t how evidence-based medicine (EBM) works!

EBM is defined as the explicit, conscientious and judicious use of the best current scientific evidence in decision making regarding the treatment of an individual patient or population. Indeed, the term “evidence” refers not to that which is “evident”, but rather to what has been discovered through specific research.

Evidence-based clinical practice is built on 3 key elements: 

– the best research evidence;

– the clinical experience of the treating physician;

– the patient’s values and expectations.

In other words, optimal clinical decision-making is based on knowledge of the best available scientific evidence, which must be combined with the values and preferences of the patient, who is involved directly in the process of choosing his or her treatment. 

But scientific evidence cannot answer all the questions that crop up in medicine. In the field of scoliosis treatment, for example, there are no studies showing that brace wearing is more effective during the day than at night. 

So, what are doctors meant to do when they are faced with situations like this? In the absence of available scientific evidence, the decision has to be based on the other two foundation stones of clinical practice (the doctor’s personal experience and the patient’s values), so as to achieve the best possible outcome. 

As far as bracing is concerned, there is an important study “Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis Bracing Success Is Influenced by Time in Brace: Comparative Effectiveness Analysis of BrAIST and ISICO Cohorts” which shows that the outcome, in terms of curve correction, depends on the number of hours the brace is worn: the longer it is worn the better the result will be.
On the basis of this knowledge, and also with the aim of increasing our patients’ compliance with the treatment, we at ISICO have decided that patients should always wear their brace at night, and enjoy their brace-off hours (as prescribed by their doctor) during the daytime.
After all, if patients sleep without their brace on, this means they lose 7-8 hours of correction every 24 hours. What is more, using brace-off hours during the daytime makes it easier for youngsters to take part in the daily activities they enjoy (sports, going out with friends, and so on), and this increases not only the level of compliance with the treatment, but also their quality of life.
Finally, we know that our spine does not remain passive during sleep; on the contrary, when we are in bed, swelling of the intervertebral discs (shock-absorbing “sponges” situated between our vertebrae) causes lengthening and tension of this entire structure, which is so important in growth.
This is one of the reasons why ISICO (and pretty much all practitioners worldwide) now recommend that, when the time comes to do so, bracing hours should be reduced during the daytime, until the point is finally reached when patients, in the last months of their treatment, are wearing their brace only at night. This, then, is an example of how the clinical experience of a specialist team and the particular needs of patients can together serve as the basis for making sound therapeutic choices in the absence of hard scientific evidence.

eSosort2021: Isico competes for the AWARD

Isico, too will be present with several presentations at the annual international conference Sosort, online from April 29th to May 1st.
A presence, albeit virtual, characterized by the possibility of competing again for the SOSORT Award. We recall that Isico has been awarded already in the last two years the prestigious international recognition given by SOSORT for the best research, to which is added, in 2019, the Award won as co-authors of a research study in collaboration with the University of Hong Kong.

“In this online edition, our study Efficacy of bracing in infantile scoliosis. A 4-years prospective cohort shows that idiopathic respond better than secondary scoliosis will compete for the Award along with six other studies – explains Prof Stefano Negrini, scientific director of Isico and first author of the research – an important result that recognizes the high quality of the research we are performing in Isico. Also, the study Adults with idiopathic scoliosis: progression over 5 Cobb degrees is predicted by menopause and metabolic bone disease, which sees as first author Dr Sabrina Donzelli (who won the Award in 2020) was nominated among the 7 best research studies: Dr. Donzelli will hold the presentation but will not compete for the Award this year.”
In addition, another study, Increasing Brace Comfort, Durability and Sagittal Balance through Semi-rigid Pelvis Material does not change Short-Term Very-Rigid Sforzesco Brace Results, is among those selected for the Podium presentation and will be presented during the event by Dr Francesco Negrini, an Isico physiatrist.

Isico also distinguished itself for the works accepted as Posters, available to subscribers to the event in an on-demand session, and they are three: Can the tilt-differences of limiting vertebrae be a prognostic factor for the worsening of the scoliosis curves treated with specific exercises? A pilot study using a series of matched patients, edited by our director of physiotherapy, Michele Romano, Reducing the pelvis constriction changes the sagittal plane in the brace. A retrospective case-control study of 37 free-pelvis vs 336 classical consecutive very-rigid Sforzesco braces and The modular MI-brace is as effective as the classical custom-made Sforzesco brace. A matched case-control study of 120 consecutive high-degree female AIS, both from Prof Stefano Negrini.

This year’s virtual meeting will begin with synchronous (live) presentations on Thursday, April 29th and Friday, April 30th, from 9 am to 11 am Eastern Time, and on Saturday, May 1st, from 9 am to 1 pm Eastern Time.

All the presentations will be recorded and be made available on-demand for a duration of 1 year on the SOSORT conference website for registered participants. For more information and registration, visit the event website https://esosort21.sosort.org