Did you know that bracing is the only nonsurgical treatment proven to slow the progression of certain specific idiopathic scoliosis curves? Read on to learn more about this common and effective treatment option.
What does a brace accomplish?
When a teenager is diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis, their thoughts may be flooded with any number of fears. For example, it is common to wonder if you will be able to continue to walk on your own, and most people worry about noticeable physical disfigurement.
The good news is that about 90 percent of people will not need surgery or a brace to treat their idiopathic scoliosis.1 Instead, the vast majority of people can continue to live their lives in a similar fashion as they did before their diagnosis—but they will need to be regularly monitored for any progression of the curvature of their spine.
For adolescents with significant curvature in their spine (exceeding a Cobb angle of 25 degrees), a brace may be prescribed to slow or halt the progression of scoliosis. The ultimate goal of prescribing the brace is to prevent the need for a future major surgery.
As regards to adults, by the time a person has reached full skeletal maturity, a brace is no longer effective in slowing the progression of an idiopathic scoliosis curve. This means that braces are most often prescribed for people aged 10 to 16 years.
Which curves are best treated with bracing?
The curve configurations that are most responsive to bracing are those that are:
- Centered in the thoracic (mid back) or upper lumber (lower back) spine
- In patients who are skeletally immature (still have lots of growth potential)
The treating orthopaedic surgeon can evaluate these variables and decide on the most appropriate brace style and prescribe the amount of time the brace is to be worn during both the day and night. In general, those who wear the prescribed brace more than 16 hours per day consistently do best. Those in a brace may temporarily remove the brace as needed for bathing, personal hygiene, and for any sport-related activities.
Complications associated with bracing
When it comes to treating idiopathic scoliosis with bracing, there are a number of complications that can occur due to the age of the patient. For example, a young person may feel self-conscious wearing a brace amongst her or his peers. This can lead to a failure to follow through on the prescribed treatment plan (either abandoning treatment early or not wearing a brace for the prescribed number of hours per day).
Other general complications may include:
- Discomfort as a result contact of the brace with the throat, chin, or pelvic area.
- Skin irritation from friction caused by contact with brace.
- Mild (and temporary) deformity of the rib cage.
The importance of a mental health professional
The pain, discomfort, and potential embarrassment associated with both scoliosis and bracing treatment can take a mental toll on a young person. This is why I suggest that parents enlist the help of a mental health professional as their child goes through the bracing process.
A qualified mental health professional can be a safe sounding board for an adolescent, and they can also coach your child to deal with the various emotions that arise during the bracing process.
During the bracing process, you, your child, your doctor, and a mental health professional need to work together as a team to ensure the physical and mental well-being of your son or daughter.
- Asher MA, Burton DC. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: natural history and long term treatment effects. Scoliosis. 2006;1(1):2.