Management of Spinal Deformities and Evidence of Treatment Effectiveness

Josette Bettany-Saltikov1, *, Deborah Turnbull2, Shu Yan Ng3, Richard Webb4
1 Institute of Health and Social Care, Teesside University, Middlesbrough, UK
2 Kingston-upon-Thames, Scoliosis UK Ltd. UK
3 Wanchai Chiropractic Clinic, Hong Kong
4 Peacocks Medical Group, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Newcastle, UK

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Creative Commons License
© 2017 Bettany-Saltikov et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Institute of Health and Social Care, Teesside University, Rm CG0.12A, Constantine Building Middlesbrough, TS1 3BA, UK; Tel: 441642342981; Fax: 00441642-384105; E-mail:



The review evaluates the up-to-date evidence for the treatment of spinal deformities, including scoliosis and hyperkyphosis in adolescents and adults.

Material and Methods:

The PubMed database was searched for review articles, prospective controlled trials and randomized controlled trials related to the treatment of spinal deformities. Articles on syndromic scoliosis were excluded and so were the articles on hyperkyphosis of the spine with causes other than Scheuermann’s disease and osteoporosis. Articles on conservative and surgical treatments of idiopathic scoliosis, adult scoliosis and hyperkyphosis were also included. For retrospective papers, only studies with a follow up period exceeding 10 years were included.


The review showed that early-onset idiopathic scoliosis has a worse outcome than late-onset idiopathic scoliosis, which is rather benign. Patients with AIS function well as adults; they have no more health problems when compared to patients without scoliosis, other than a slight increase in back pain and aesthetic concern. Conservative treatment of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) using physiotherapeutic scoliosis-specific exercises (PSSE), specifically PSSR and rigid bracing was supported by level I evidence. Yet to date, there is no high quality evidence (RCT`s) demonstrating that surgical treatment is superior to conservative treatment for the management of AIS. For adult scoliosis, there are only a few studies on the effectiveness of PSSEs and a conclusion cannot as yet be drawn.

For hyperkyphosis, there is no high-quality evidence for physiotherapy, bracing or surgery for the treatment of adolescents and adults. However, bracing has been found to reduce thoracic hyperkyphosis, ranging from 55 to 80° in adolescents. In patients over the age of 60, bracing improves the balance score, and reduces spinal deformity and pain. Surgery is indicated in adolescents and adults in the presence of progression of kyphosis, refractory pain and loss of balance.


The available evidence reviewed has suggested that different approaches are needed towards the management of different spinal deformities. Specific exercises should be prescribed in children and adolescents with a Cobb angle in excess of 15°. In progressive curves, they should be used in conjunction with bracing. Clarity regarding differences and similarities is given as to what makes PSSE and PSSR specific exercises. As AIS is relatively benign in nature, conservative treatment should be tried when the curve is at a surgical threshold, before surgery is considered. Similarly, bracing and exercises should be prescribed for patients with hyperkyphosis, particularly when the lumbar spine is afflicted. Surgery should be considered only when the symptoms cannot be managed conservatively.


There is at present high quality evidence in support of the conservative treatment of AIS. The current evidence supports the use of PSSE, especially those using PSSR, together with bracing in the treatment of AIS. In view of the lack of medical consequences in adults with AIS, conservative treatment should be considered for curves exceeding the formerly assumed range of conservative indications.

There is, however a lack of evidence in support of any treatment of choice for hyperkyphosis in adolescents and spinal deformities in adults. Yet, conservative treatment should be considered first. Yet to date, there is no high quality evidence (RCT`s) demonstrating that surgical treatment is superior to conservative treatment for the management of AIS and hyperkyphosis. Additionally, surgery needs to be considered with caution, as it is associated with a number of long-term complications.

Keywords: Scoliosis, Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, Adult scoliosis, Hyperkyphosis, Scheuermann’s disease, Rehabilitation, Exercises, Bracing, Surgery, PSSE, PSSR.