Doctors have been treating scoliosis for millennia, yet they’ve made little progress in understanding what provokes the condition. Most cases arise from unknown causes, and most treatments consequently take one of three forms: Watch and wait, wear a brace or get surgery.
Scoliosis braces have long been the primary method for preventing surgery in young patients whose spines are still developing. Some adults also wear them to counteract the painful effects of adult scoliosis. However, the use of this treatment differs dramatically between the two age groups.
Scoliosis Braces for Children and Teens
The majority of kids with scoliosis don’t get diagnosed until they’re approaching their teen years. Most will never need treatment.
When the curves show rapid progression or reach a certain threshold, however, doctors typically prescribe scoliosis braces for kids whose spines haven’t yet matured. About one in five patients with scoliosis end up wearing a back brace in hopes that it will slow the progression and allow them to avoid surgery.
Most begin wearing a brace between the ages of 11 and 14, and many continue the treatment until they stop growing at around 16 or 17. Because this is a socially awkward time for kids — particularly for girls, who are eight times more likely to be diagnosed with scoliosis than boys — wearing a brace can take its toll on a teenager’s self-esteem. In one study, half of the adolescents who wore a brace showed clear signs of negative body image. The embarrassment and shame that often accompanies scoliosis bracing prompts many teens to refuse to wear them.
To alleviate the discomfort and embarrassment associated with bracing, specialists have designed a variety of scoliosis braces for teenagers and children aimed at making patients more comfortable. Below is a list of the most commonly used scoliosis braces for children and teens.
- Milwaukee Brace — As the first modern brace developed for the treatment of scoliosis, it’s also one of the bulkiest. Today it’s used only occasionally, replaced by more comfortable and form-fitting braces.
- Boston Brace — Also known as a TLSO brace, this rigid plastic orthotic is one of the most commonly used scoliosis braces for kids today. Designed to be virtually unnoticeable under loose clothing, it’s typically worn 23 hours a day.
- Charleston Bending Brace — Made for nighttime use, this model applies extra force to the spine so it can be worn for only eight to 10 hours a day while the patient sleeps.
- Providence Brace — Also designed for nighttime wear, this brace aims to achieve maximum correction with minimal discomfort. It’s mostly prescribed for smaller curves and often used in conjunction with the Boston Brace.
Alternatives to Bracing
Some parents believe the health risks of scoliosis bracing aren’t worth taking, especially considering its lackluster performance in effectiveness studies. The problem is that most scoliosis braces for kids attempt to physically force the spine into compliance instead of getting to the root of the problem.
Through a combination of specific exercises performed while wearing the ScoliSMART™ Scoliosis Activity Suit, kids can retrain their muscle memory to align and stabilize their posture. Addressing this underlying neurological dysfunction ultimately treats the curvature more effectively than a brace. To set young patients on a path toward long-term improvement, ScoliSMART offers a Scoliosis BootCamp for kids with advanced curves as well as a Small Curve Camp for early intervention.
Scoliosis Braces for Adults
Scoliosis manifests in adults for a variety of reasons. Some develop degenerative scoliosis due to wear and tear from aging. Other adults who had scoliosis as children may now suffer from pain or leg numbness.
An estimated 6 percent of Americans over the age of 50 have some degree of scoliosis, as do about 15 percent of those over 60 with lower back pain. The actual rates are probably even higher; a 2010 study of MRI scans found that 39 percent of participants over 60 had scoliosis in their lower backs that had previously gone undetected.
Doctors rarely prescribe braces for scoliosis in adults because such treatment cannot improve the condition in a patient who has reached skeletal maturity. When a brace is recommended, the treatment goal is typically to provide pain relief and reduce the need for medication. For those in severe pain, some doctors believe scoliosis braces for adults may help reduce spinal motion and provide much-needed support.
Adult bracing can vary drastically from patient to patient depending on the cause and severity of the condition. There are two main types of scoliosis braces for adults.
- Rigid bracing — Hard plastic braces are generally not recommended for adult patients because they cause the muscles to atrophy, which can accelerate degeneration. However, younger adults who are concerned about the cosmetic impact of scoliosis may use a rigid brace to improve the spine’s appearance.
- Flexible bracing — Some adult patients wear flexible braces for support and temporary palliative relief during certain activities, such as exercising at the gym. These may also serve as rehabilitation devices to help strengthen the body’s posture for longer-term relief.
Alternatives to Bracing
Few treatments are available to adult scoliosis patients, primarily because doctors don’t believe the condition can be corrected at their age. But the ScoliSMART™ Scoliosis Activity Suit can help older patients develop long-lasting spinal stability while enjoying rapid pain relief — especially when used in conjunction with a specialized rehabilitation program.
For patients with larger curves, Scoliosis BootCamp can help improve breathing and function levels while reducing curvature and halting progression. Another option — ScoliSMART™ Adult Support — features an adult support activity suit and natural pain relieving supplements.
While scoliosis treatment has traditionally looked very different for adults than for children and teenagers, emerging research suggests both age groups can benefit from similar therapies. By correcting the fundamental imbalance at the heart of the condition, adults can now set their sights on long-term improvement rather than mere pain relief, and adolescents can avoid surgery without suffering a loss of self-esteem.