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Now screening comes online!

Isico launches online screening. Just connect to the website www.screening.isico.it  and you can perform a quick and simple assessment and check whether, with respect to pathologies such as scoliosis or curved back, it is appropriate to carry out a specialist medical visit that investigates further.
The idea, which has been in the works for some time, has had a further stimulus thanks to the departure of Telemedicine during the Covid-19 emergency period. We know how essential an early screening is to set up adequate rehabilitation therapy in case of vertebral deformities.
At Isico, screening has always been done, free of charge for the siblings of our patients. Now the novelty is given by an additional online tool that everyone can access as well in several languages; in addition to Italian and English, the German version will soon be ready. 
How does the site work?
After viewing a short explanatory video of Michele Romano, head of physiotherapy in Isico, the evaluation begins either for scoliosis or for the curved back. 
The process is always guided by an introductory video given by Michele Romano. He explains how to make a part of these evaluations through observation only, others where you are asked to take measurements with a ruler and others again to be detected with the help of a simple bottle of water, the Torsion Bottle. 
On the basis of the data entered, it will be possible to know if it is appropriate to contact the evaluation of an expert in vertebral pathology or if there is nothing at the moment to worry about.


The next steps?
Translating the site into other languages ​​so that more people can use it easily. In this regard, we will be pleased to accept those who want to collaborate with us for the translation into other languages, in case you contact the email: isico@isico.it

SEAS: partial resumption of the courses

Our SEAS courses have not yet been able to restart in full due to the Coronavirus emergency. At the end of August, however, we managed to be present in Slovenia where Michele Romano, director of physiotherapy in Isico, held a first-level course: about twenty participants were allowed to participate to keep the necessary distances and respect the safety protocols. Enthusiastic participation, despite having had to limit the interaction than usual.

After the Slovenian course, Romano was engaged in two SEAS online courses for a number of Russian participants.

A fundamentally important role in the success of this event was played by Dr Dmitry Gorkovsky, who, since 2016, has worked with us on the staging of eight previous courses in various Russian cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk.

Michele Romano gave practical demonstrations using a Dummy via Skype and Dr.Gorkovsky replicated these exercises with volunteers from among the participants.

How often should a brace be changed?

Receiving their first brace is a key moment in the treatment of youngsters affected by spinal deformities.
This is the brace that shows them exactly what the treatment consists of. They learn about the pads, which are carefully positioned to correct their back; they become familiar with the fastener and how to adjust it to the right tightness, as well as how the brace sits under the armpits. They also have to get used to the shoulder pads and, quite simply, the weight of the plastic.

Surprising as it may seem, some youngsters even grow quite attached to their first brace as, over the weeks and months, it starts to become a part of their daily life and less of a problem. This “friend”, which they sometimes find irritating, especially early on, gradually feels less and less bulky, and in fact there will eventually come a point when it is too small. After all, while the brace stays the same, the youngster inside it grows of course!

For this reason, a new brace will be needed from time to time. It certainly isn’t possible to use the same one from the start to the end of the treatment. But there are also other reasons why a brace needs to be replaced, the first and most obvious being that, like any object used on a daily basis and for a number of hours each day, it starts to wear out. Indeed, after a time, it is subject to breaking, or some of its parts may no longer be intact.

A further reason, and this is perhaps the most important, is that the brace, especially the first one, moulds the youngster’s back so much that after a few months it becomes necessary to construct a new one adapted to its changing volumes. Unless braces are updated to take this aspect into account, they simply cannot work at full efficiency.

The young scoliosis patient’s back changes not only as an effect of the brace, but also because he/she is normally still growing.
In this stage of development, it is perfectly normal to get taller and heavier. A brace can usually tolerate slight increases in height and weight, but when these are more marked it will start to feel uncomfortable. Even just looking at the youngster in his/her brace can be enough to tell you that the time has come to start thinking about getting a new one made.  
From the second brace onwards, more time can usually elapse between braces. It may even be enough to get a new one about once a year.

Youngsters are often anxious at the prospect of changing their brace, fearing that the new one will be uncomfortable. Actually, however, they are unlikely to experience the same discomfort they had at the very start of the treatment.
In fact, in most cases they will find the new brace is more “comfortable”, given that it replaces one that had become too short and tight, and so no longer adequate. Furthermore, having already had to get used to wearing a brace, these “experienced” patients will be better able to recognise, quickly, any problems with the new one.
This will allow them to give the orthopaedic technician clear feedback, useful for making it fit better.  

A comparison of the Chêneau and Sforzesco braces

Unfortunately, it has become common to think of braces in the same way as we do drugs. But before we go any further, we need to make one thing clear: whereas we all know that aspirin is not the same as paracetamol, in the case of a brace, the name doesn’t really mean anything specific.
A brace is a product that is made-to-measure for the individual patient, and therefore the success of bracing treatment depends not on the name of the brace, but on how correctly it has been constructed for the particular patient. If the pads are incorrectly positioned, or if the brace is constructed so that it sits too low or presses too much on one side, it may even contribute to worsening rather than improving the scoliosis. 

The names of the different braces, therefore, are meaningful only to those who prescribe them. 

Finally, adding to the confusion, Dr Chêneau gave his name to two completely different types of brace: the first Chêneau is much more symmetrical than the second one, which, on the other hand, is clearly asymmetrical. Although the second Chêneau brace is the one most commonly used worldwide, we prefer to use the first one, for two reasons: first of all, it is discreet (practically invisible under clothes) and second, in constructing it, we are able to apply the same principles that characterise the Sforzesco, which is the brace developed at our own centre. For this reason, the Chêneau that we use at Isico has been given a new name: we call it the Sibilla- Chêneau, in honour of Dr Sibilla, a pioneer of our school.

So, how do the Sibilla-Chêneau and the Sforzesco differ? They differ in several features, which determine the choice of one over the other on a case-by-case basis. The decision to prescribe one type of brace rather than another must always be taken by a medical specialist.

Let’s start with the material: the Sibilla-Chêneau, used at Isico, is of monovalve construction and it is made of polyethylene, whereas the Sforzesco has two valves and is made from a much more rigid material. Its two parts are linked to posterior fasteners, and there is sometimes an aluminium rod at the back, too. Being more rigid, the Sforzesco has shown the same efficacy as the old system of plaster casting, but with the huge advantage of being removable for bathing/showering.

The Sibilla-Chêneau tends to be used to treat milder cases with less rigid scoliotic curves; it is also preferred for pre-pubertal patients. The Sforzesco, on the other hand, is used for more severe scoliosis with more rigid curves (for example, in youngsters with greater bone maturation). 

In some cases, patients start off with a Sibilla-Chêneau brace but subsequently switch to a Sforzesco one if the scoliosis becomes too aggressive (a decision reflecting the concept that the treatment should evolve gradually): on a hypothetical treatment scale, we can say that the Sforzesco (a super-rigid brace) is one step up from the Sibilla-Chêneau (a rigid brace).

At Isico, both these braces are prepared in accordance with the SPoRT (Symmetrical, Patient-oriented, Rigid, Three-dimensional) concept of bracing.

 “Symmetrical” means that the brace, externally, appears almost perfectly symmetrical, which makes it unobtrusive and helps to replicate the natural shape of the human body. In other words, for aesthetic reasons, it is outwardly symmetrical. By contrast, internally the brace acts asymmetrically, exerting a three-dimensional corrective action on the deformity. 

The brace is defined “Patient-oriented” on account of its wearability, and therefore tolerability. Being very closely fitting, it moves with the patient, and it does not restrict arm and leg movements at all. Furthermore, since it is easy to conceal, patients accept it readily, rather than merely putting up with it.

The term “Rigid” refers to the type of material used.

Finally, “Three-dimensional” refers to the corrective action of this type of brace on the spine; technically speaking, the brace pushes in a down-up direction; overall, the transmission of the corrective forces to the spine is carefully balanced in such a way as to obtain optimal correction in all three planes of space, without any of the three being allowed to dominate.

As explained at the start, another type of Chêneau brace is also used worldwide; in Italy, we call this the Chêneau 2000: it is an asymmetrical brace that uses expansion chambers. It remains clearly asymmetrical, even externally.  We, on the other hand, prefer to use the symmetrical version of the Chêneau, in order to respect the SPoRT concept mentioned above and also because it favours compliance. Indeed, applying our school of thought, we have obtained, in our patients, the best bracing results recorded anywhere in the world, and this is thanks, in part, to the type of braces we use. Naturally, braces only work if patients actually wear them, and the easier they are to conceal under clothes, the more patients will wear them.

Active self correction and stabilization: an Isico letter to the editor

It has just been published a letter to the editor  “The active self-correction component of scoliosis-specific exercises has results in the long term, while the stabilization component is sufficient in the short term” in the scientific journal Prosthetics and Orthotics International

“This is a comment to the study “Core stabilization exercises versus scoliosis-specific exercises in moderate idiopathic scoliosis treatment” –explains dr. Alessandra Negrini, Isico physiotherapist and author of the letter – the authors of the research compared two groups included Scientific Exercises Approach to Scoliosis (SEAS) and core stabilization. Scoliosis-specific exercise schools like SEAS include two main components: active self-correction (ASC) and stabilization. Consequently, a common intervention was provided to the two groups (stabilization) in this study, while the SEAS group also received ASC”.

Follow-up X-rays were taken after only 4 months. According to the Society on Scoliosis Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Treatment (SOSORT)/Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) criteria, these results should be classified as a very short-term assessment. No significant difference was found between the two interventions. The patients were more adherent to the brace than to the exercise therapy. “Unfortunately, the authors did not mention if there was a difference in the adherence to bracing between the groups: this variable is expected to impact the results more than the type of exercises -adds dr. Negrini – Experts agree that stabilization exercises are more important during the first treatment phase (when the brace maintains for many hours every day the alignment of the spine and exercises are aimed to counteract muscle impairment). Exercises in ASC are more important in maintaining the obtained results when the brace weaning phase starts, when the patients should live sustaining in correction their spine without the brace support”. 

It is important for the future to determine when to start ASC: immediately (even if it could add nothing to stabilization) or when weaning starts (when it could be too late)?

The full letter: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32524898/

Scoliosis: situations to beware of in adulthood

The importance of keeping scoliosis under control through regular specialist check-ups is well known, and this is also true in adulthood when the condition can continue to evolve, albeit slowly and gradually (by half/one degree per year according to the literature).

Although curves measuring less than 30° are unlikely to progress (and a progression becomes less and less likely the further below this threshold the measurement is), curves greater than 50° will often worsen in adulthood. Accordingly, the frequency of medical check-ups is decided by the specialist on the basis of the individual patient’s clinical situation.

Idiopathic scoliosis – the form most frequently found in children and adolescents – affects females in particular. It is important to remember that there are certain times in the life of an adult woman when her body undergoes major transformations that make it necessary for her to take particular care of her back.

The first is pregnancy: it was once thought that scoliosis was most at risk of worsening during pregnancy, due to the body’s production of the hormone relaxin in preparation for childbirth; it was thought that this hormone, in addition to softening the ligaments of the pelvis ready for delivery, also had the same effect on the ligaments that help to support the spine, thereby temporarily reducing the level of trunk support.
Now, however, it is understood that the postnatal period and early months in the child’s life are the trickiest time for the mother. Indeed, in the first year of life, babies often need to be held or carried, and in the space of just a few months, they become considerably heavier. Furthermore, as they learn to walk, the mother often finds herself having to adopt a forward bent position. Obviously, all this can have a negative effect on the back, affecting posture and giving rise to pain. At the first sign of back support problems (pain, difficulty getting through the day, frequently needing to lie down), women with scoliosis, particularly if it is a severe form, would be well advised to do specific self-correction exercises prescribed by an expert physiotherapist; these exercises strengthen the back and help it to support the spine.

Finally, in menopause and beyond, the clinical situation is at increased risk of sudden worsening.
The body changes and the aging process, which accelerates with the onset of the menopause, can cause a worsening of existing curves and even the appearance of new ones, so-called de novo scoliosis. 

Although men are less often affected by idiopathic scoliosis and are of course spared the major physical and hormonal changes that women go through, they are just as likely as women to experience aging-related scoliosis.
This form can cause postural imbalances severe enough to leave the affected individual with marked forward and/or lateral flexion of the trunk.
In this stage of life, a specialist medical examination is warranted in the presence of the following: onset of pain, an increasingly bent posture, worsening of postural asymmetries, loss of height, and difficulty supporting the trunk, relieved only when lying down.

My treatment hasn’t had the desired effect: why?

Sometimes, even when a patient has followed the prescribed course of treatment (bracing and exercises), the final outcome isn’t what they expected and there are no marked improvements. Why is this?

Let’s start by reiterating something we all know to be a fact.

Scoliosis is a disease that can strike with varying degrees of severity and, as we have said many times, its origin is not known. However, although we don’t know what causes it, thanks to scientific research we are learning more and more about how it evolves and how to treat it.

The vast body of scientific literature now available on this topic has shown us the importance of monitoring scoliosis and its evolution during skeletal growth, in particular during the pubertal growth spurt, which is known to be the most critical phase in the course of this disease.

The aim of conservative treatment, which includes specific exercises and bracing, is to limit the progression of scoliosis during growth, so as to prevent problems from arising in adulthood, and to try and avoid the need to perform highly invasive surgery.

The risk of the disease worsening differs from patient to patient and from curve to curve. Unfortunately, there are no elements that allow us to predict this risk; all we have are indicators that can tell us how likely it is that the condition will worsen and, even then, we are only talking in terms of probabilities. Therefore, the task of the medical team responsible for making the diagnosis and treating the patient is to constantly monitor the situation and adjust the treatment as necessary. After all, we do not want to be too aggressive, but at the same time we need to avoid the risk of underestimating the case and prescribing an ineffective treatment.

The other key factor for a successful outcome is the patient’s “adherence” to the prescribed treatment, in other words his/her ability to follow it constantly and with precision.

How much do these two factors influence the result?

A few years ago, we did a study of “extreme” cases (less than 3% of the total), i.e. those patients showing the best and worst treatment outcomes, defined respectively as a greater than 20° improvement or a greater than 20° worsening of the curve. 

We found that all the patients (100%) who obtained exceptional results were treated with both bracing and exercises. But we also found that 50% of the patients with the poorest outcomes had nevertheless followed the treatment perfectly. In these cases, while the treatment had failed to arrest the course of particularly aggressive forms of scoliosis, the patients’ adherence to it had undoubtedly slowed down the worsening of the curve and prevented it from being as marked as it would have been without any treatment at all. And this brings us back to what we said at the start: although some cases show no apparent improvements, scoliosis that has worsened a little at the end of treatment must be considered a great success if the outcome of no treatment would have been a far more severe deterioration.

So, what do we ask of our patients? To collaborate, adhering to the treatment fully and regularly attending check-ups, so as not to run the risk of obtaining disappointing results, despite being treated.

Sforzesco in-brace corrections visible with EOS images

The aim of our study “The three-dimensional analysis of the Sforzesco brace correction ”, published by Scoliosis and Spinal Disorders, is to analyse the Sforzesco Brace correction, through all the parameters provided by Eos 3D imaging system. This is a cross-sectional study from a prospective database started in March 2003.
The study took into account 16 AIS girls (mean age 14.01) in Sforzesco brace treatment, with EOS x-rays, at start, in brace after one month and out of brace after the first four months of treatment
One of the major revolutions in the field of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis during the past 10 years is the development of 3D imaging devices in standing position, such as EOS Imaging – explains dr. Sabrina Donzelli, physiatrist of Isico and one of the authors of the study –  Through the 3D reconstructions produced by dedicated user-friendly software, it is possible to calculate and visualise a series of regional and local parameters characterising the spinal deformity. This new technology allows the clinician to deepen the direct effect of braces in all three spatial planes”.
Brace efficacy can play a role in determining the final outcome of a treatment. In recent years, braces have become really three dimensional, adding a detorsion action and addressing the whole shape of the trunk and its deformity. 
Different braces can act in different ways and may act in one plane more than in the other. Therefore, personalised prescription of the brace can optimise treatment.
According to the results, the Sforzesco brace has its strongest influence on the middle of the spine in the axial plane, while the Torsion Index cannot be considered an index of brace correction.
The three-dimensional elongation effect, which is typical of the Sforzesco brace, can be responsible for the main effect focused on the middle part of the spine and seen in the axial plane.
The main limitation of this study is a very small sample size, associated with a large heterogeneity of data which threaten the internal validity of the study. The lack of distinction in curve types, magnitude, bone maturity and age is a threaten for the external validity too, but “of course this preliminary study gives some interesting insight into the mechanism of the Sforzesco brace action and it suggests that EOS imaging could be very useful also to improve the immediate in-brace correction“.

Will the Covid emergency finally teach us the importance of scientific evidence?

Many people are saying that the present coronavirus epidemic will change our whole way of being: our relations with others and the way we see things. Indeed, this health emergency has forced practically all of us to change our habits and our way of life.

Perhaps we should therefore also be asking ourselves whether, in the post-Covid age, there will be greater recognition of the health sector and a greater understanding of the importance of the scientific community, research and evidence-based investigations.

Just think about it. Today, we are all anxiously waiting for an anti-Covid vaccine, whereas not so long ago (although it feels like a lifetime) there were parents who were choosing not to vaccinate their children with drugs that have been available on the market for many years and that countless studies have shown to be effective.

It is to be hoped that, in the wake of this emergency, it will be clear to everyone that infectious diseases (i.e. diseases that are passed from person to person) are only truly brought under control when most of the population is immune to them, in other words when there is so-called herd immunity. This situation is reached when a large section of the population has either been vaccinated against the disease or exposed to the virus and developed antibodies against it.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of incorrect information circulating at the moment. This includes, on a medical level, numerous false beliefs and myths that are difficult to eliminate. These ideas are spread in different ways: via media channels, by word of mouth or even, in some cases, by poorly informed healthcare workers. Some of the ideas going around might raise a smile, but what is less amusing is that they are sometimes heeded and applied by people without the necessary education and expertise to recognise them for what they are.

The Italian Health Ministry has warned people to beware of the various fake news currently circulating about novel coronavirus infection, debunking myths concerning Ayurvedic therapies, yoga and breathing exercises — these are claimed to offer protection against the virus —, the idea that it can be sweated out of the body during physical exercise, and even the claim that honey exerts a useful antibacterial and disinfectant action.

There is a common saying used in science: “In God we trust, all others must bring evidence”. Because what assumes scientific validity must first be proven.
The basis of all evidence-based medicine is the same: scientific studies in which data have been collected and methods and results rigorously compared and analysed by the various experts on the topic in question. A good doctor must always seek to integrate the best scientific evidence from research with the patient’s clinical experience and values. Patients, in turn, must be fully informed about the treatments they are about to undertake.

But the trouble is, many people today tend to lack scientific culture, and few really appreciate the value of “scientific evidence”. Simply trusting in the views of a certain doctor, or the experiences of someone we know, is really no way to drive advances in medicine.

In rehabilitation, as in other branches of medicine, there exist various methods and techniques whose efficacy has been little explored, and others that have no valid medical basis and are quite often administered by people without proper qualifications, who therefore lack the right approach.

For example, numerous studies have shown that simply telling patients “what a terrible back you have!” will only aggravate their tendency to catastrophise and increase their fear of movement, two factors that contribute to the chronification of back pain. 

Similarly, reading on an MRI report that your spine has several protrusions or thinned discs is no more significant than being told that you have lots of grey hairs: the fact that you have a hernia is meaningless unless this information is correctly set within the overall clinical context. What we are saying is that it is the medical specialist’s job to make the diagnosis and prescribe a course of rehabilitation, which the therapist then decides how best to implement in the individual patient.

In the literature, there are various studies showing that some subjects with spinal hernias are completely asymptomatic. Unfortunately, however, we still have patients who come to us either alarmed to have learned they have a hernia or convinced that their osteopath, by manipulating their spine, has managed to “put back” a decades-old hernia.

At ISICO, we treat disorders of the spine, a field closely related to the concept of posture. Postural problems, too, are frequently addressed using approaches whose effectiveness may not have been properly demonstrated.

While this does not always create problems, in some cases, it costs patients valuable time and money, delaying the reaching of a correct diagnosis and proper planning of their care.

Take scoliosis, for example, a condition that tends to worsen with growth: it is one thing starting the treatment when the patient has a curve measuring 20°, quite another waiting until it has reached 40°. The treatment options, by this stage, are drastically reduced, and there is the risk of having to resort to more invasive therapies. Clearly, it is a shame for this situation to have been reached simply because an appropriate treatment was not proposed sooner.

At the courses we run, we are often asked, both by patients and colleagues, whether there is any link between scoliosis and mastication, dental occlusion, and foot and/or knee position/alignment. For the moment, all these ideas are theories with no scientific basis. It could be that, in the future, data will be collected that confirm these correlations and we will be prompted to review our position, but as things stand, it is not ethical to propose treatments based on these theories.

As regards the treatment of scoliosis, the current scientific literature tells us that we have different avenues that we can pursue: observation, exercises, bracing (with different types of brace, for different numbers of hours per day) and, in the most severe cases, surgery.

It is crucially important to offer the patient the right treatment, where “right” means that it is supported by scientific evidence of its effectiveness. Specific exercises for the back, including self-correction ones, are an active and important part of scoliosis treatment, as well as scientifically proven to be effective (“Specific exercises reduce the need for bracing in adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis: a practical clinical trial“). Instead, gymnastics generally, like other physical activity, has no therapeutic value, even though it can have positive effects (“Sport activity reduces the risk of progression and bracing: an observational study of 511 JIS and AIS Risser 0-2 adolescents“).

Interrater reliability of three-dimensional reconstruction of the spine : Low-dose stereoradiography for evaluating bracing in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis

Every year, the Italian Scoliosis Study Group selects the best published papers on conservative spine treatment from the global scientific literature.
Here is the abstract from one of these papers. 

Interrater reliability of three-dimensional reconstruction of the spine : Low-dose stereoradiography for evaluating bracing in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.

Almansour H1Pepke W1Rehm J2Bruckner T3Spira D2Akbar M4

Orthopade. 2020 Apr;49(4):350-358. doi: 10.1007/s00132-019-03712-x.

BACKGROUND 

Bracing constitutes the mainstay treatment for mild scoliosis. The 3D reconstruction of the spine using low-dose stereoradiographic imaging (LSI) is increasingly being used to determine the true shape of the deformity and to assess the success of bracing.

OBJECTIVE 

The aim of the study was to validate the measurement of 3D spinopelvic parameters and vertebral rotation in the setting of bracing treatment via a reliability study conducted in adherence to the guidelines for reporting reliability and agreement studies (GRRAS).

MATERIAL AND METHODS 

Full spine stereoradiographs of patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) who underwent Chêneau bracing were retrospectively analyzed. The 3D reconstruction was performed by two experienced operators in a blinded manner and randomized order. Rotation of every vertebra was computed in the coronal, sagittal and axial planes. Sagittal spinopelvic parameters were evaluated. All measurements were statistically compared to determine agreement of the measurement of brace correction using the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC).

RESULTS 

In this study, 45 patients (81% females) aged 12.5 ± 2 years were included. The mean absolute difference was less than 3.5° for all measured angles, less than 4 mm for sagittal vertical axis (SVA) and less than 1.5 mm for lateral pelvic shift. The ICC was high for all parameters (ICC >0.81). Despite the overall high reliability, the reliability of axial rotation was lower in the upper and middle thoracic spine and the lower lumbar spine.

CONCLUSION

Brace wearing during full spine LSI acquisition does not affect spinal measurements. The LSI under bracing treatment produces reliable measurements of spinopelvic parameters as well as vertebral rotation. These reproducible 3D data enable spine surgeons to assess the true shape of the deformity, to quantify rotation of each vertebra and enhance the understanding of the efficacy of bracing treatment.

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30899991