Back bracing for scoliosis needs work, studies show

Dr. Jay Adlersberg has more.

October 4, 2013 3:08:01 PM PDT
Bracing for scoliosis has been so controversial that until now, one recognized medical group advised against it. But braces have been used for years to prevent spine surgery for the problem, and now a report in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine racks up scientific evidence that braces do indeed need work.

You can see the scoliosis, curvature of the spine, as 12-year-old Shannon White bends forward. It started when she was very young.

"I was going to my doctor and she noticed that my shoulders weren't even, and I was about 5 or 6 at that time," said Shannon.

She went to a pediatric orthopedist.

"He started bracing me and hope that as I grew, it would decrease the curvature," said Shannon.

The new report backs up the idea of wearing a brace like this for 13 to 18 hours a day.

The report compared kids Shannon's age to see if bracing versus no bracing prevented progression of spine curvature. The results favored bracing so much that the study was stopped so all the kids could use the braces.

It's very flexible as well. Shannon has been wearing it for the hours that she sleeps, and for several hours after school.

"At sleep overs it's a little uncomfortable on the ground or in a sleeping bag," said Shannon.

But she told me she's now used to it, and she's able to take it off for sports, including gymnastics. She's had it two years. She'll wear it another year until her spine and the rest of her bones stop growing. She's had no progression of the curvature in the years she's worn the brace.

"That was our number one goal, to prevent the need for surgery on her back, and the brace has accomplished that," said Shannon's mom, Valerie White.

Scoliosis has a big genetic factor, Shannon's father had the problem. Because of that, she had a one in five chance of getting it too. In the pipeline is some DNA research that may help doctors figure out which patients will go on to progression of spine curvature, and which kids won't.

Dr. David Konigsberg THE VALLEY HOSPITAL