SEAS in short: quick data, courses and future

SEAS (Scientific Exercise Approach to Scoliosis) is one of the few approaches to scoliosis treatment based on specific exercises. It has spread worldwide thanks to training events organised for years on all five continents.

What is SEAS, in short? These specific exercises are varied and updated continuously to avoid boredom and stimulate our nervous system and spine more and more with a custom self-correction individualised for each curve.

Some quick data

Since 2010, 272 educational programmes have been implemented, of which 115 in Italy and 157 abroad, which has led to the training of more than 6000 therapists.

“The interest collected, in conjunction with the published scientific evidence that the approach is valid, has prompted us to accept the increasing demands for the training of local teachers who started to programme more capillary courses in different countries,” explains Michele Romano, Director of Isico physiotherapy and head of SEAS courses “This has allowed us to divert efforts even to geographical areas where we were not yet able to bring our approach”.

Participants accredited since 2011 in courses abroad

SEAS versus Schroth
A primate of diffusion that SEAS shares with another method, the Schroth, born in Germany at the beginning of the last century: both are recognised as reliable by the International Society on Scoliosis Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Treatment (SOSORT) but present non-secondary differences. One of these is the ease of learning and performing the exercises, as well as the active correction that patients learn to practice.
In Schroth, the active alignments of the column, which therapists teach the hearing patients, are characterized by considerable difficulties in execution and, above all, the objective and complex execution of the program at home, which the classic protocols provide but which is difficult to perform without the support of the therapist.
In a study published this year, the authors interviewed 173 professionals who treat scoliosis using the Schroth method in Europe and America. 52% of these operators declared to use a different method in combination, and in 37.9% of cases, the different approach is SEAS.

That is why an increasing number of physiotherapists trained with Schroth integrate the classic treatment with SEAS exercises to help the less skilled patients while adhering to a treatment that lasts for years.
One of the main obstacles to continuing these treatments is the boredom caused by the repetitiveness of a small group of exercises, which patients perform throughout the therapy.
The many therapists who apply Schroth try to overcome the weaknesses of the first method by teaching the most straightforward and most dynamic SEAS exercises.
In Isico centres in Italy, SEAS provides learning sessions ranging from 60 to 90 minutes, with monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly frequency, depending on the treatment phase. After these sessions, patients can perform the exercises on their own at home. This significantly reduces costs by combining quality (learned at the Isico Centres) with convenience (exercises at home or close to home).

SEAS: the near future

“In the future, we will anticipate the training of other local teachers that will cover increasingly large areas of the globe,” concludes Romano, “and will spread more and more SEAS treatment.”
Isico will be engaged in the design of rehabilitation facilities in different continents dedicated to the application of SEAS, so that there can be trained specialists on site who take care of an increasing number of patients.

Are bracing and exercises really still the only way to “solve” the problem?

This is a question many parents ask us when scoliosis is diagnosed. Perhaps their child has a particularly tricky curve, or maybe they themselves can remember dealing with the same condition when they were young. It is the same question we were recently asked by the mother of a five-year-old girl who, at this tender age, already has to reckon with a challenging treatment, “trapped” in a brace.

 Unfortunately, despite huge strides made in the formulation of less invasive and more effective braces (such as the Sforzesco type that we at ISICO, have long used as a valid substitute for plaster casts), bracing and specific exercises remain the only conservative treatments available for scoliosis.  

No parent wants their child to suffer the same negative experiences that they themselves remember, and it is perfectly understandable to be concerned about the possibility of them living the “nightmares” we did, and to want to protect them as far as possible. On the other hand, if this is something you have gone through yourself, you will actually be ideally placed to really understand all the difficulties your child is likely to face, and to help them find the best way to cope. It is not being complaining to ask whether other options exist and whether your child really does have to wear that uncomfortable piece of plastic — these are, after all, questions that any parent would ask.

 So, to return to the question, are there any other effective and less difficult treatments? Unfortunately, as explained in a recent study, manipulation and osteopathy, like all manual treatments, have not yet been shown to be effective (

Given the questions we so often get asked, we feel it is essential to properly explain the reason for certain aspects of the treatment, such as the need to ensure that brace-off hours are consecutive, the importance of performing specific exercises, and the duration and dosing of the treatment.

When deciding how long the treatment will last and how aggressive it needs to be in terms of the dose (i.e., number of brace-on hours per day), the factor we consider is the potential risk of the condition worsening. This risk is assessed based on the extent of the scoliotic curve and how much growing the patient still has to do (residual growth). Scoliosis worsens with growth, therefore the earlier it arises, the more likely it is to get worse, especially during growth spurts, when the youngster gains height rapidly (these usually happen at 6/7 years of age and in puberty).

Based on this information, the treatment can be adjusted, reducing or increasing the dosage according to the period of risk.

It also follows that the earlier scoliosis arises, the longer the treatment will need to be, given that bone growth has to be complete to reach a stable situation. Then there is the question of the “brace-on” hours. It has been demonstrated that after putting on a brace, it takes at least two hours for the spine to achieve the desired correction. 
This means that, when the brace is repeatedly taken off and put back on, we have to consider, and count, not only the brace-off hours, but also the hours needed for the spine to return to its correct position inside the brace. In the same way, every time the brace is removed the back tends to spring back to its starting condition (rather like a spring that has been pulled and then reverts to its original shape).

Then, the more frequently the brace is taken off to give the patient a break, the less effective the treatment will be compared with wearing it for the same number of hours but with fewer and longer breaks. For this reason, it is essential to try and establish and maintain a regular brace-wearing schedule.

We know that bracing treatment is very challenging and also that managing the brace-off hours can be difficult, especially during the summer. For this reason, we advise families, as far as possible, to choose somewhere cooler for their holidays, and also to talk to their specialist to see whether, on some days during the summer, the brace-on hours can be reduced or the brace-off time can be split into two blocks. Obviously, these decisions have to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

As for the specific exercises for scoliosis, these are designed to help support the back when the brace is not being worn, and also to prevent loss of muscle tone (otherwise an inevitable consequence of bracing). In the case of very young children (like the little girl whose mother prompted us to write this post), we recommend lots of sport to keep the muscles in shape, because children aged 4 to 6 years often don’t yet have the concentration necessary to be able to cope with exercise sessions.

Finally, in answer to the question, yes, at present, bracing and exercises are the only conservative therapy options that have been shown to work. This kind of treatment is certainly difficult and demanding, but we have to remember that it aims to help our children reach adulthood with healthy backs, and fortunately, we do at least have these “instruments” to offer them. 

ISICO evidence-based treatment decided in agreement with patient and family: the best solution

How effective is a personalised scoliosis treatment, which means a treatment supported by clinical experience combined with available scientific evidence on risk factors; based on the specific therapeutic objective; and adapted to the patient’s particular needs to encourage compliance? In other words, how effective is the treatment approach adopted by Isico compared with a simplified protocol based on a single, standardised type of brace and a set number of brace-wearing hours? 

According to our study A Pragmatic Benchmarking Study of an Evidence-Based Personalised Approach in 1938 Adolescents with High-Risk Idiopathic Scoliosis, just published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine (link), the answer is hugely effective! 

Our study, featuring a retrospective observation of a prospective database, includes nearly 2000 patients from our centre, recruited between 2004 and 2017, and is therefore the largest on conservative treatment of scoliosis in the current literature. 

The evidence-based personalised approach (EBPA) for idiopathic scoliosis in adolescents (AIS), routinely adopted in clinical practice by Isico, was compared with data from existing randomised controlled trials (RCTs), as paradigms of single treatments, to verify EBPA efficacy and burdensomeness in high-risk AIS.

“We compared the results recorded by Isico, in terms of the probability of avoiding surgery, with those of two randomised studies: one conducted using SpineCor® the other based on the use of a rigid brace”, explains Prof. Stefano Negrini, scientific director of Isico and first author of the study.
“We found that an evidence-based and personalised approach like ours yielded far better results than standardised treatments where strict protocols are followed. This is because it combines evidence with physician expertise and consideration of the patient’s preferences. At Isico, every patient follows a unique and personalised treatment pathway, both in terms of the brace chosen — other centres instead tend to offer only the one they are most familiar with —, but also in terms of the dosing of the treatment (brace-wearing time): in short, we offer an “à la carte” approach that allows us to find exactly the right balance, for the patient, between a series of factors and considerations: the degree of invasiveness, the risk of progression, and the mutually agreed goals of the treatment. In this way, in line with the great importance nowadays attached to patient-centred care, it might be decided that the treatment should be only as burdensome as is strictly necessary, or as burdensome as the patient is willing to accept. Throughout, the patient is involved in the therapeutic decision-making process and also made to feel he/she is actively contributing to the pursuit of the final goal of treatment. All this is achieved in a stepwise manner, in such a way as to ensure we provide the most effective treatment with the lowest impact.”

To ensure informed and shared decisions, the treating physician systematically informed the participants about their clinical and aesthetic condition, their progression risk, and the significance of Cobb angle thresholds (30° and 50°) and how these could influence their health and possible results. We discussed alternatives: to either reduce the burdensomeness of the treatment or increase the probability of success.

In short, greater patient involvement was found to lead to greater compliance and better results, which is exactly what was shown by another study published by our group several years ago entitled Adolescent Idiopathic Bracing Success Rates Influenced by Time in Brace: Comparative Effectiveness Analysis of the BrAIST and ISICO Cohorts. 

“Back then, in that study, which compared our findings with those of the “BrAIST” randomised multicentre study by Lori Dolan and Stuart Weinstein, we were already showing that Isico treatment works better”, Prof. Negrini goes on. “Indeed, it reduced the rate of recourse to surgery to a third of that recorded in the American study: this is because Isico patients, adhering to the prescribed treatment, wear their brace for a far greater number of hours. And now, this latest, pragmatic, observational study of a large prospective cohort benchmarked to published RCTs has shown higher efficacy of EBPA compared with standardised protocols, to the point that only 2 % of our patients had surgery, compared with 28% of those in groups receiving standardised treatment. In addition to being initiated early on and prolonged over time, the treatment delivered by Isico is also carefully personalised based on the severity of the current condition and its risk of progressing. Accordingly, the treatment offered ranges from simple exercises to bracing, with the number of brace-wearing hours per day varying according to need. It is thus a stepwise approach that progresses from observation, through exercises, SpineCor®, rigid and super rigid bracing (at Isico, instead of plaster casts, we use the equally effective Sforzesco brace), and finally to surgery as a last resort. What explains the success of this treatment? Well, the team of experts of course, but above all the trust and cooperation we receive from our young patients and their families”.

SEAS lands in France!

SEAS – Scientific Exercise Approach to Scolisis has taken an important symbolic step. The first training course for physiotherapists was organized in France beginning of October. The implication, almost exciting, is that the location of the course was Lyon.
This place represents the historical cradle of scoliosis treatment. The city where the corrective plasters, the Lionese brace and the homonymous method of exercises were conceived which inspired all Italian physiotherapists when the concept of conservative treatment of spinal misalignments landed in Italy.
Even the SEAS can count among its ancestors the method of exercises conceived by the surgeon Pierre Stagnara at the “Centre des Massue”, the hospital that was the destination of all those who in the period between the 60s and 80s were on pilgrimage to learn how to systematically approach the treatment of scoliosis.
The SEAS was originally inspired by the simplistic concept of Lyon’s self-correction and then developed with the modern vision of rehabilitation treatment, creating the basis for the development of an approach based on the principles of conceptually advanced motor learning.
“This is the aspect that the students of this first French course appreciated -explains Michele Romano, Physiotherapy Director of Isico – About half of the class of 20 participants was made up of teachers from physiotherapy schools who came together for the discovery of SEAS. The concepts exposed and the linearity of the reasoning enthusiastically impressed the students“.
At the end of the course, the next appointments have already been scheduled and SEAS will meet new followers next year among others in Paris, Toulouse and Corsica.

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.

SEAS in adults

Over the past 13 years or more, we have published dozens of posts and thousands of comments on our blog dedicated to scoliosis.
The Isico blog is a dedicated space where patients can ask questions and swap experiences, but it is also a place where those involved in treating scoliosis can take a more in-depth look at a series of topics and engage with patients.

SEAS in adults

“You’re too old now”, “Your scoliosis has stopped now that you’ve finished growing”, “If you want to, do some exercise”… How often do adults with vertebral deformities like scoliosis or hyperkyphosis hear things like this?
Our patients often tell us that on reaching adulthood they become aware of physical changes, in their back, balance and height, and they therefore start looking for answers and treatments.
The natural ageing process does not spare our back and changes are quite normal and to be expected: when they occur, it is important to get active in order to restore elasticity and strength to joints and muscles. But ageing is an entirely different situation compared with the occurrence of spine deviations in young people, in whom we seek to modify the bone structures and consequently reduce the degrees of curvature.
Scientific studies in recent years have clarified several aspects, that are worth bearing in mind:

1. Scoliosis exceeding 30 degrees at bone maturity, generally reached between 17 and 19 years of age, is at risk of progressing over the years, resulting in a worsening of the existing curves: and the higher the measurement, the greater the risk of worsening.
2. Will scoliosis inevitably lead to back pain? Absolutely NOT!
3. Does having a correct lateral spinal profile (lordosis-kyphosis) protect us against the reduction of our quality of life due to disability and pain? YES, it does.

In light of all this, it is important to know that in adults, too, it is possible to intervene to correct postural abnormalities and prevent and/or slow down the worsening of scoliosis over time: our approach (SEAS) aims to do just this.
As an effect of the force of gravity, and also the curves that are already present, a scoliotic back will tend to drop down in the direction of the curve, and in many cases, there will also be a forward shift of the trunk. Simple physical activity alone, however useful and beneficial, is insufficient to counteract this phenomenon.
This can only be achieved through specific exercises designed to provide support for the structures of the spine in the opposite direction, and these reinforcement exercises must have precise and individual characteristics, in other words, they must be tailored to the individual patient.

The movements to be carried out must be chosen according to very specific priorities, and this is why it is necessary to turn to qualified professionals who have expertise in dealing with these conditions in adults, using effective approaches.
The SEAS method requires constant collaboration on the part of the patient and seeks to make him “responsible for himself”.
The exercises are carefully worked out for each patient. They are initially performed under the therapist’s guidance and then performed independently, with the patient doing daily repetitions, at home.
Sessions with the therapist are initially scheduled monthly, although this frequency is subsequently reduced, possibly even to only once every three months, and patients are given exercise sheets to follow at home.
It takes at least six months to obtain appreciable results, sufficient to motivate patients to continue and thereby ensure they remain fit well into old age.

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.

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:

Seas: how it evolves to move forward

Due to the Coronavirus emergency and the consequent restrictive measures, our SEAS courses, foreseen in different countries of the world in the next period, cannot be done: we are ready to reschedule them as soon as possible.
In some cases, however, SEAS has been able to evolve in online mode in order not to stop completely.
After the four-handed course in Moscow when Michele Romano, director of physical therapy in Isico, was connected online from Milan, we were invited to hold a theoretical Webinar in Turkey, a few days ago, on April 22nd.
In both cases it was a success beyond expectations, considering that the Webinar had 600 participants. During the Webinar, Dr Michele Romano explained what SEAS is, the scientific evidence of this type of approach to the treatment of idiopathic scoliosis and how it will evolve after the epidemic.

About Seas Course in Moscow, the lessons were given by our director of physiotherapy, Michele Romano, who linked up with 21 participants in Moscow, together with the course organiser Dr Dimitri Gorkovsky, who is a sports physician and specialist in physical and rehabilitation medicine.

“As the current situation prevented me from going to Moscow in person, as originally planned, we took a last-minute decision to switch from a residential to an online course” Romano explained. “A fundamentally important role in the success of this event was played by Dr Gorkovsky, who, since 2016, has worked with us on the staging of eight previous courses in various Russian cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk.”

On all these previous occasions, Dr Gorkovsky flanked Romano, translating from English into Russian.
“Those past experiences certainly helped me this time, as I am now familiar with the topic” he said. “Michele gave practical demonstrations using a dummy, which we watched via Skype, and I then replicated these exercises with volunteers from among the participants. Instead, Michele was able to answer the participants’ questions and clarify their doubts directly, as though he were here with us. The course was excellent, as usual, and the participants were very satisfied with what they learned. This remote modality could certainly represent an important opportunity for the future.”

Isis Navarro at Isico headquarter

Could you tell us about your studies?

I am a PhD Student at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul. Since 2017, after I completed the SEAS course, I started to have only patients with scoliosis and work just with these patients. In my master’s degree I studied the surface topography as a possibility of easy and three-dimensional tool to evaluate scoliotic patients. I had some publications based on this primary subject.

And I have also some articles accepted for publication:

NAVARRO, ISIS J.R.L.; CANDOTTI, CLÁUDIA T. ; FURLANETTO, TÁSSIA S. ; DUTRA, V. H. ; AMARAL, M. A. ; LOSS, JEFFERSON F. . Validation of a mathematical procedure for the cobb angle assessment based on photogrammetry. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine (Print), 2019.

NAVARRO, I. J. R. L.; CANDOTTI, CLÁUDIA T. ; AMARAL, M. A. ; DUTRA, V. H. ; Gelain, G. ; LOSS, JEFFERSON F. . Validation of the measurement of the angle of trunk rotation in photogrammetry. JOURNAL OF MANIPULATIVE AND PHYSIOLOGICAL THERAPEUTICS, 2019.

What is your profession?

I am a physiotherapist.

Why did you register for the SEAS  course?

I was looking for the SEAS course, and my plan was to travel to Italy to attend the course, but fortunately Michele and Alessandra came to Brazil to teach for the first group in Brazil. I discovered the SEAS approach doing lots of researches on internet, searching for consistent methods of treatment to scoliotic patients to offer to them the best possibility of treatment and results.

What makes the SEAS learning course different from other educational courses and programs?

The more significant advantage of the SEAS course is the clarity of the reasoning behind the technic and the facility to apply what you learned. The SEAS approach allows doing physiotherapy with all type of scoliotic patients, independent of the type or classification of the curve. The teachers were always ready to answer all the questions and help with difficult cases I asked separately.

Are you satisfied with what you have learned? 

Yes. But when you start to practice more and more always news doubts arise. 

If you were asked to recommend the course, what would you say?

The SEAS course is an excellent way to understand the world of scoliosis, its characteristics and the reasoning to treat adequately and accurately. After the course, you will be able to evaluate and treat scoliotic patients based on a method easy to understand and to apply with a high level of scientific evidence.