A meta-analysis of the efficacy of non-operative treatments for idiopathic scoliosis

J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1997 May;79(5):664-74. doi: 10.2106/00004623-199705000-00005.


With use of data culled from twenty studies, members of the Prevalence and Natural History Committee of the Scoliosis Research Society conducted a meta-analysis of 1910 patients who had been managed with bracing (1459 patients), lateral electrical surface stimulation (322 patients), or observation (129 patients) because of idiopathic scoliosis. Three variables - the type of treatment, the level of maturity, and the criterion for failure - were analyzed to determine which had the greatest impact on the outcome. We also examined the effect of the type of brace that was used and the duration of bracing on the success of treatment. The number of failures of treatment in each study was determined by calculating the total number of patients who had unacceptable progression of the curve (as defined in the study), who could not comply with or tolerate treatment, or who had an operation. The percentage of patients who completed a given course of treatment without failure, adjusted for the sample sizes of the studies in which that treatment was used, yielded the weighted mean proportion of success for that treatment. The weighted mean proportion of success was 0.39 for lateral electrical surface stimulation, 0.49 for observation only, 0.60 for bracing for eight hours per day, 0.62 for bracing for sixteen hours per day, and 0.93 for bracing for twenty-three hours per day. The twenty-three-hour regimens were significantly more successful than any other treatment (p < 0.0001). The difference between the eight and sixteen-hour regimens was not significant, with the numbers available. Although lateral electrical surface stimulation was associated with a lower weighted mean proportion of success than observation only, the difference was not significant, with the numbers available. This meta-analysis demonstrates the effectiveness of bracing for the treatment of idiopathic scoliosis. The weighted mean proportion of success for the six types of braces included in this review was 0.92, with the highest proportion (0.99) achieved with the Milwaukee brace. We found that use of the Milwaukee brace or another thoracolumbosacral orthosis for twenty-three hours per day effectively halted progression of the curve. Bracing for eight or sixteen hours per day was found to be significantly less effective than bracing for twenty-three hours per day (p < 0.0001).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Arthrodesis
  • Braces
  • Child
  • Disease Progression
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Regression Analysis
  • Research Design
  • Scoliosis / classification
  • Scoliosis / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome