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Scoliosis Research Society members attitudes towards physical therapy and physiotherapeutic scoliosis specific exercises for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis

  • Cindy L. Marti1,
  • Steven D. Glassman2, 3,
  • Patrick T. Knott4,
  • Leah Y. Carreon3Email author and
  • Michael T. Hresko5
Scoliosis201510:16

https://doi.org/10.1186/s13013-015-0041-z

Received: 17 March 2015

Accepted: 19 May 2015

Published: 27 May 2015

Abstract

Background

Attitudes regarding non-operative treatment for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) may be changing with the publication of BRAiST. Physiotherapeutic Scoliosis Specific Exercises (PSSE) are used to treat AIS, but high-quality evidence is limited. The purpose of this study is to assess the attitudes of members of the Scoliosis Research Society towards PSSE.

Methods

A survey was sent to all SRS members with questions on use of Physical Therapy (PT) and PSSE for AIS.

Results

The majority of the 263 respondents were from North America (175, 67 %), followed by Asia (37, 14 %) and Europe (36, 14 %). The majority of respondents (166, 63 %) prescribed neither PT nor PSSE, 28 (11 %) prescribed both PT and PSSE, 39 (15 %) prescribe PT only and 30 (11 %) prescribe PSSE only. PT was prescribed by 67 respondents, as an adjunct to bracing (39) and in small curves (32); with goals to improve aesthetics (27) and post-operative outcomes (25). Of the 196 who do not prescribe PT, the main reasons were lack of evidence (149) and the perception that PT had no value (112).

PSSE was prescribed by 58 respondents. The most common indication was as an adjunct to bracing (49) or small curves (41); with goals to improve aesthetics (36), prevent curve progression (35) and improve quality of life (31). Of the respondents who do not prescribe PSSE, the main reasons were lack of supporting research (149), a perception that PSSE had no value (108), and lack of access (63). Most respondents state that evidence of efficacy may increase the role of PSSE, with 85 % (223 of 263) favoring funding PSSE studies by the SRS.

Conclusion

The results show that 22 % of the respondents use PSSE for AIS, skepticism remains regarding the benefit of PSSE for AIS. Support for SRS funded research suggests belief that there is potential benefit from PSSE and the best way to assess that potential is through evidence development.

Keywords

Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis Scoliosis specific exercise Survey

Background

Physiotherapeutic Scoliosis Specific Exercise (PSSE) has been advocated as a potentially valuable tool in the treatment of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) [111]. Postulated treatment effects include preventing curve progression, minimizing respiratory dysfunction, preventing spinal pain syndromes, and improving aesthetics via postural correction [111]. These treatment effects may lead to avoidance of brace treatment or surgery [12, 13]. PSSE is also commonly used in conjunction with brace treatment, and is suggested to increase the efficacy of bracing [1416]. In general, the role of PSSE is more widely accepted in Europe versus North America.

The evidence-base supporting PSSE treatment regimen is very limited, as most of the published literature consists of case studies and small cohort studies. A systematic review in 2012 identified only 12 relevant studies and described the evidence as poor quality because all were at level IV or lower in terms of their Level of Evidence [6, 9]. This deficiency is due in part to inconsistent indications for PSSE treatment, the diversity of therapy programs, ranging from outpatient postural training to intensive and prolonged in-patient regimens, and the difficulty in assuring compliance when patients are receiving therapy over an extended period. The best available literature, is a recent published randomized clinical trial of 110 patients that demonstrates PSSE to be superior to standard physical therapy (PT) in patients older than 10 years with small AIS curves (10° to 25°) and Risser sign <2 [5].

Despite limited high quality evidence, the possibility of effective nonsurgical treatment for AIS is obviously attractive. Although U.S. surgeons have historically been skeptical regarding the role of these conservative exercise treatment options, attitudes may be changing. Publication of the BRAiST study, which demonstrated efficacy of bracing for AIS based upon clearly defined clinical parameters [17], has encouraged both patients and surgeons to the potential for brace treatment. At least in the public sector, this interest seems to extend beyond bracing to encompass a wider array of nonsurgical options.

The purpose of this study is to explore the attitudes of scoliosis surgeons regarding Physiotherapeutic Scoliosis Specific Exercise (PSSE). Beyond questions of awareness and acceptance, we sought to determine whether surgeons believe that evidence development regarding PSSE was an important research priority.

Methods

After receiving Institutional Board Approval, a web-based survey was sent to all 1200 Active and Candidate members of the Scoliosis Research Society. The survey (Table 1) included questions regarding membership status, training and years in practice. For the respondents who prescribe standard PT or PSSE, their indications and goals for standard PT and PSSE were queried. For those who do not prescribe standard PT or PSSE, they were further queried on why they do not prescribe standard PT or PSSE. In addition, respondents were asked if they have observed an increased interest in PSSE, what evidence of this they have observed, and if they anticipate an increased role for PSSE in the future. All analysis was performed using PASW Statistics GradPack 17.0 (Chicago, IL: SPSS Inc.). Fisher’s exact test was used to determine difference in responses between regions of practice, years in training and type of training.
Table 1

Survey questions and responses

Question

Response

Member type

Active

 

Candidate

Country

 

Birth date

 

Please describe your training.

Orthopedic Spine Surgeon

 

Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon

 

Neurosurgical Spine Surgeon

 

Other (please specify)

How many years have you been in practice?

0-10 years

 

11-20 years

 

>21 years

Do you treat AIS in your practice?

Yes/No

Do you refer AIS patients for STANDARD physical therapy?

Yes/No

Which patients? (check all that apply)

Small curves – not braced

 

Curves in braces

 

Pre-surgical

 

Post-surgical

 

Only for families who request therapy

 

Patients with symptoms/pain

Indicate primary goals of referring for STANDARD physical therapy? (check all that apply)

Prevent curve progression

Improve aesthetics via postural correction

 

Prevent or treat spinal pain

 

Prevent or treat respirary dysfunction

 

Prevent surgery

 

Improve post-surgical outcome with pre-op PT

 

Postpone surgery

Why don’t you refer? (check all that apply)

Lack of perceived value in standard PT

 

Lack of access

 

Lack of patient interest/compliance

 

Lack of perceived value in standard PT

 

Lack of research to support standard PT

 

Cost to patient

Do you refer patients for SCOLIOSIS SPECIFIC EXERCISE?

Yes/No

Which methods? (check all that apply):

Schroth

 

Lyon Method

 

Side Shift Method

 

Functional Individual Therapy of Scoliosis

 

Scientific Exercise Approach to Scoliosis

Which patients? (check all that apply)

Small curves – not braced

 

Curves in braces

 

Improved posture/Aesthetics

 

Post-surgical

 

Pre-surgical

 

Only for families who ask

What are your goals for SCOLIOSIS SPECIFIC EXERCISE (SSE)? (check all that apply)

Improved posture/Aesthetics

Improving surgical outcome

 

Postponing surgery

 

Preventing Curve Progression

 

Preventing surgery

 

Improved posture/Aesthetics

Why don’t you refer? (check all that apply)

Lack of access to SSE trained therapists

 

Lack of research to support SSE

 

Lack of perceived value in SSE

 

Lack of access to SSE trained therapists

 

Lack of patient interest/compliance

Have you observed an increased interest in SCOLIOSIS SPECIFIC EXERCISE?

Yes/No

In what ways do you see evidence of this change? (check all that apply)

Hospitals and Clinics in your area are promoting SSE

 

More research/publications about PT or SSE

 

Patients and families are asking for PT or SSE

 

Doctors are referring more frequently to PT or SSE

 

Hospitals and Clinics in your area are promoting SSE

Why not? (check all that apply)

Lack of patients/family interest in SSE

 

Lack of physician education or interest about benefit of SSE

 

Lack of research/publications about of SSE

 

Hospitals and Clinics in your area do not provide SSE

Do you anticipate an increased role for SSE in the future?

Yes/No

What would facilitate this change?

 

Do you support the use of SRS research funds to support higher quality research regarding the potential benefit of SSE for AIS?

Yes/No

Please add any additional perspectives you would like to share:

 

Results

There were a total of 266 respondents (22 %). Three were excluded from the analysis as they indicated that that they did not treat AIS patients, leaving 263 respondent surveys available for analysis. The majority of respondents (175, 67 %) were from North America, with an almost equal number from Asia (37, 14 %) and Europe (36, 14 %), a small number of surgeons from South America and the Middle East.

Almost all the respondents were Orthopedic Surgeons; 159 (60 %) categorized their spinal deformity training primarily as Orthopedic Spine and 95 (36 %) as Pediatric Orthopedics. Clinical experience, measured by years in practice, was almost equally represented, with most (110, 42 %) in practice for more than 20 years, 81 (31 %) have been in practice between 11 and 20 years and 69 (26 %) have been in practice for ten years or less.

The majority of respondents (166, 63 %) prescribed neither PT nor PSSE, 28 (11 %) prescribed both PT and PSSE, 39 (15 %) prescribe PT only and 30 (11 %) prescribe PSSE only. Sixty-seven (25 %) surgeons prescribe standard PT for their patients with AIS. Although the reported use of standard PT was more common in Europe, there was no statistically significant difference in prescribing pattern based on region, with an almost equal proportion of surgeons in Asia, South America and North America. There was no statistically significant difference in prescribing pattern based on years in practice, or training (Table 2).
Table 2

Respondent characteristics in prescribing standard physical therapy

 

Standard physical therapy

p-value

 

No

Yes

 

Total

196

67

 

Region

  

0.591

 North America

132

43

 

 Asia

29

8

 

 South America

7

2

 

 Europe

23

13

 

 Middle East

5

1

 

Years in Training

  

0.272

 0 to 10

54

15

 

 11 to 20

55

26

 

 21 or more

85

26

 

Training

  

0.200

 Orthopedic Spine Surgeon

113

46

 

 Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon

74

21

 

 Neurosurgical Spine Surgeon

2

0

 

 Other

7

0

 
Among the 67 surgeons who prescribe standard PT, the most common indication was the use of standard PT in conjunction with brace treatment (58 %), small curves (48 %) or post-operatively (Table 3). Only 25 % of surgeons prescribed PT for treatment of pain. However, alleviation of pain was chosen as the most common goal of therapy (72 %). Improving aesthetics (40 %) and improving post-operative outcomes (37 %) were the next most common goals of standard PT. Of the 196 (75 %) surgeons who do not refer AIS patients for standard PT, the majority (149, 76 %) stated the lack of supporting research as the most common reason, followed by the perception that standard PT had no value in the treatment of AIS (112, 57 %).
Table 3

Stated indications and goals for standard physical therapy (N = 67)

Indication

Frequency

Percentage

 Small curves

32

48 %

 Braced Curves

39

58 %

 Pre-operative

17

25 %

 Post-operative

25

37 %

 Patient request

7

10 %

 Pain

17

25 %

Goals

  

 Prevent Progression

12

18 %

 Improve Aesthetics

27

40 %

 Treat Pain

48

72 %

 Treat Respiratory Symptoms

11

16 %

 Prevent Surgery

6

9 %

 Postpone Surgery

3

4 %

 Improve Post operative Outcomes

25

37 %

 Maintain Improve Core Strength

7

10 %

 Exercise with Bracing

1

1 %

 Improved quality of life

1

1 %

 Maintain flexibility

1

1 %

 To get back to activities

1

1 %

Why don’t you prescribe Standard Physical Therapy?

  

 No access

8

4 %

 No Patient Interest

20

10 %

 No value

112

57 %

 No research

149

76 %

Fifty-eight (22 %) surgeons reported referring their AIS patients for PSSE. There was no statistically significant difference in referral pattern based on region or surgical training. Surgeons in practice for ten years or less were less likely to refer for PSSE compared to surgeons who have been in practice for a longer period of time (Table 4).
Table 4

Respondent characteristics in prescribing Scoliosis specific exercises

 

Scoliosis specific exercises

p-value

 

No

Yes

 

Total

204

58

 

Region

  

0.520

 North America

140

34

 

 Asia

25

12

 

 South America

7

2

 

 Europe

27

9

 

 Middle East

5

1

 

Years in Training

  

0.022

 0 to 10

62

7

 

 11 to 20

60

21

 

 21 or more

81

29

 

Training

  

0.824

 Orthopedic Spine Surgeon

124

35

 

 Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon

72

22

 

 Neurosurgical Spine Surgeon

2

0

 

 Other

6

1

 
Among the 58 surgeons who refer patients for PSSE, the most common indication was similar to standard PT: in conjunction with brace treatment (84 %) or for small curves (72 %) (Table 5). However, unlike standard PT, PSSE was less often prescribed for treatment of pain (3 %). Consistent with the respondents indication for referral, stated goals for PSSE were most commonly to improve aesthetics (62 %), to prevent curve progression (60 %) and to improve quality of life (53 %). The most common specific PSSE used was Schroth (33, 57 %), followed by Side Shift (13, 22 %), SEAS (12, 21 %) and FITS (11, 19 %) with almost similar distribution (Table 5). For the 204 (78 %) of surgeons who do not refer for PSSE, the main reasons were similar to standard PT, the lack of supporting research (149, 73 %), followed by the perception that PSSE had no value (108, 53 %). In addition, 63 (31 %) reported that they had no access to a facility providing PSSE.
Table 5

Stated type, indications and goals of Scoliosis specific exercise (N = 58)

Scoliosis specific exercise

Frequency

Percentage

 Schroth

33

57 %

 SEAS

12

21 %

 FITS

11

19 %

 Side Shift

13

22 %

 Lyon

4

7 %

 Dobomed

1

2 %

Indications

  

 Small curves

42

72 %

 Braced Curves

49

84 %

 Pre-operative

18

31 %

 Post-operative

12

21 %

 Patient request

3

5 %

 Pain

2

3 %

 Non-athletes in particular

1

2 %

Goals

  

 Prevent Progression

35

60 %

 Prevent Surgery

19

33 %

 Postpone Surgery

12

21 %

 Improve Post-operative Outcomes

20

34 %

 Improve Aesthetics

36

62 %

 Improve quality of life

31

53 %

 Decrease pain when present

1

2 %

 General Fitness

1

2 %

 Improve brace results

1

2 %

 Muscle strengthening

2

3 %

Why don’t you prescribe Scoliosis Specific Exercise

  

 No access

63

31 %

 No Patient Interest

12

6 %

 No value

108

53 %

 No research

149

73 %

 Cost

4

2 %

 Lack of exposure/experience

5

2 %

Slightly more than half of the surgeons (140, 53 %) noted an increased interest in PSSE, based mostly from inquiries from patients and their families (Table 6). When asked what factors might increase the role of PSSE in the treatment of AIS, most surgeons stated increased evidence of efficacy. Perhaps, due to this identified need, a large majority of surgeons (223, 86 %) favored funding PSSE studies by the SRS.
Table 6

Responses to “Have you observed an increased interest in SSE?”

Yes

140

 Patients ask

113

 More referrals

18

 More research/publications

39

 Hospitals promoting

20

No

123

 No patient interest

49

 No physician education

50

 No research

84

 Not offered

51

Discussion

Treatment effectiveness of nonsurgical interventions for AIS remains under studied [1820], with contradictory recommendations from research studies [2, 8, 20] and insufficient evidence to guide treatment. Specifically, Physiotherapeutic Scoliosis Specific Exercise (PSSE) treatment for AIS, although increasingly prevalent in Europe [1], have not been considered effective in North America. Spinal deformity surgeons, the Scoliosis Research Society and the Society on Scoliosis Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation and Treatment (SOSORT) [20] have recognized the lack of evidence supporting exercise treatment. The SRS funded a pilot study of PSSE, which resulted in a current RCT ongoing in Canada comparing standard PT to PSSE in adolescent scoliosis patients at a single center [21]. Despite a steady increase in the discussion surrounding PSSE, the view of PSSE among spinal deformity surgeons remains largely unknown. This study reports on survey results from 263 spinal deformity surgeons, relating to their opinions and attitudes concerning exercise treatment for Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS).

Reflective of the lack of strong evidence to support PT or PSSE to treat AIS, the majority (63 %) of respondents prescribed neither. Of those prescribing PT or PSSE, the number prescribing either or both was similar. In addition, despite the impression that PT and PSSE are more widely used in Europe [79, 15, 19, 20, 22] compared to North America, our study showed that there was no difference in prescribing patterns among the respondents based on region. Although, there was no difference in prescribing pattern for standard PT based on the surgeon’s years in practice, older surgeons were more likely to prescribe PSSE. PSSEs were developed in an era where clinical traditions and methods were passed on [23], unlike today where knowledge is spread through rigorous study design and publication of findings. Thus, surgeons who have been in practice longer may have had more exposure to PSSEs.

Consistent with current clinical indications, the majority of the respondents prescribe PT and PSSE for small curves [7, 20, 22] and as an adjunct to brace treatment [1416]. Current guidelines recommend PSSE in curves less than 25° to avoid bracing by stabilizing the spine, and obtaining 3D autocorrection of the spine, pelvis and rib cage [20]. Twenty-five degrees is the generally accepted threshold at which brace treatment is recommended [20, 24] Although 25 % of surgeons prescribed PT for treatment of pain; alleviation of pain was chosen as the most common goal of therapy, and only 3 % prescribed PSSE for pain. This may illustrate some confusion regarding the benefits of exercise in the AIS population.

Despite an increased patient awareness of nonsurgical treatments for AIS, the majority of surgeons do not prescribe PT or PSSE. Respondents stated that they did not refer AIS patients for standard PT or PSSE as they felt that these treatments were of no value in AIS and that there was no supporting research. Recognizing this need, there was an overwhelming response that there was a need for better evidence demonstrating efficacy and most favored funding PSSE research using SRS research dollars.

There are limitations to this study, foremost of which is the relatively small number of respondents at 22 %. This may raise the possibility of selection bias in that only surgeons with a specific interest in the non-operative treatment of AIS may have responded. Yet a substantial number of respondents indicated that they do not prescribe either PT or PSSE. Still, this is a starting point in initiating the discussion on the need for a more robust study on the effectiveness of either PT or PSSE in the treatment of AIS.

While effective nonsurgical treatment for AIS would represent an important benefit for many patients, demonstration of treatment efficacy has generally proven difficult. However, the success of the BRAiST study has created a renewed focus on the potential for other nonsurgical treatments, and an increased optimism that nonsurgical treatments may be effectively studied. The results of this survey demonstrate significant skepticism regarding the benefit of either standard PT or PSSE in the management of AIS, which is to be expected given the lack of evidence. On the other hand, the fact those spinal deformity surgeons indicated overwhelming support for SRS funded research suggests a belief that at least some patients might benefit from PSSE treatment. It certainly indicates a growing understanding among SRS surgeons that evidence development is the optimal way to answer these important questions.

The results of this survey show that 22 % of the respondents use PSSE for AIS, although skepticism remains regarding the benefit of PSSE for AIS. Support for SRS funded research suggests belief that there is potential benefit from PSSE and the best way to assess that potential is through evidence development.

Declarations

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Spinal Dynamics of Wisconsin
(2)
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Louisville School of Medicine
(3)
Norton Leatherman Spine Center
(4)
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science
(5)
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Children Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School

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Copyright

© Marti et al. 2015

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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