Bracing prevents need for surgery in teens with scoliosis

The study, published today in The New England Journal of Medicine, brought scrutiny to the traditional treatment of bracing of the spine for at least 18 hours per day.

Bracing proved to be so effective in reducing the teens’ need for eventual surgery that the trial was halted mid-way through, says co-author Dr. James Wright, Surgeon-in-Chief at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). “This definitive finding is good news for families seeking to halt the progress of scoliosis before surgery becomes necessary.”

The research into adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) was an international multi-centre study led by collaborators from SickKids, the University of Iowa, Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis Shriners Hospital for Children. The research involved 242 patients, of whom 146 received a brace and 96 underwent observation only. The youngsters in the bracing group wore them for at least 18 hours a day, seven days a week, even while sleeping, often for many years until they finished growing. While the commitment of adolescents to wear the brace is enormous, the alternative of major spinal surgery is also daunting for teens and families.

“This study shows the power of clinical trials. The results will have a major impact on clinical practice. It’s never too late to shine the light of science on the practice of medicine,” Dr. Wright adds.

Medical ethics

The success of bracing in preventing the need for surgery was 72 per cent, compared to the observation group at 48 per cent. “When we see a positive effect that is this powerful, medical ethics require that we stop the trial in order to advise all participants,” says Dr. Wright. At SickKids Dr. Wright is also Chief of Perioperative Services, Orthopaedic Surgeon and Senior Scientist. He is also Professor of Surgery at the University of Toronto.

Affects up to three in 100 young people

AIS is a spinal curvature that can progress through early adulthood so that surgical correction becomes necessary. It is typically diagnosed in children aged 10 to 15 years, affecting up to three per cent of children and teens in Canada.

“Currently 10 per cent of youngsters with AIS will require surgery in young adulthood. Our challenge as physicians is that we can’t predict which children will experience this progression,” says Dr. Wright. “Now we have definitive advice to offer those who want to ensure that they can stop progression before the spine reaches its adult size.”

Bracing has long been part of the treatment picture for AIS, but no previous study as demonstrated whether it is better than simple observation at preventing progression.

Wearing a rigid braces for 18 hours a day is not easy, but now we can advise patients and parents that wearing braces does work compared to a watch-and-wait approach,” he says. Further work is needed to fine-tune physicians’ ability to predict which children are not at risk of their curvature progressing, he adds.

The study is funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, the University of Rochester and SickKids Foundation.  

About The Hospital for Sick Children
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.  Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system.  SickKids is proud of its vision of Healthier Children. A Better World.™ For more information, please visit

About Peter GIlgan Centre for Research and Learning 
About Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning
The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning will bring together researchers from different scientific disciplines and a variety of clinical perspectives, to accelerate discoveries, new knowledge and their application to child health — a different concept from traditional research building designs. The facility will physically connect SickKids science, discovery and learning activities to its clinical operations. Designed by award-winning architects Diamond Schmitt Architects Inc. and HDR Inc. with a goal to achieve LEED® Gold Certification for sustainable design, the Gilgan Centre will create an architectural landmark as the eastern gateway to Toronto’s Discovery District. The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning is funded by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Government of Ontario, philanthropist Peter Gilgan and community support for the ongoing fundraising campaign. For more information, please visit

For more information, please contact:

Matet Nebres
The Hospital for Sick Children
[email protected]

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 202059
[email protected]