Scoliosis is a condition where the spine is curved in three dimensions (from the back the spine appears to be shaped like an "s"). It is often idiopathic, or having an unknown cause. The most common type of scoliosis is discovered at 10 years of age or older, and is defined as a curve that measures at least 10° (called a Cobb angle; measured on x-ray). Because of the unknown cause and age of diagnosis, it is called Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS).
While there are usually no symptoms, the appearance of AIS frequently has a negative impact on adolescents. Increased curvature of the spine can present health risks in adulthood and in the elderly. Braces are one intervention that may stop further progression of the curve. They generally need to be worn full time, with treatment lasting for two to four years. However, bracing for this condition is still controversial, and questions remain about how effective it is.
This review included two studies; one multicenter international cohort study (a study where treatment groups were defined according to the centre where patients were treated) of 286 girls and a randomised controlled study (an experimental study that randomised the participants to treatment groups) of 43 girls. There is very low quality evidence that braces are more effective than observation (wait-and-see) or electrical stimulation in curbing the increases in the curves of the spine. There is low quality evidence that rigid braces are more effective than a soft, elastic one. Adverse effects of braces were not discussed.
Limitations of this review include the sparse data and studies available, and the fact that available studies only included girls (even if there is only one male with scoliosis for every seven females), making it very difficult to generalize the results to males. Due to the very low quality of the evidence in favour of bracing, patients and their parents should regard these results with caution and discuss their treatment options with a multi-professional team.
Further research is very likely to change the results and our confidence in them.