New Bracing Technology Aims to Revolutionize Spinal Deformity Care
The Trouble in a Bent Back
Spinal deformities vary a great deal, but two of the most prominent are “kyphosis,” essentially a permanently hunched back, and “scoliosis,” a lateral curve to the spine. And while some cases of these are asymptomatic, many lead to serious pain and mobility problems. Largely, these issues first arise in children and adolescents, but all ages can be affected. In fact, one longitudinal study noted that adults between 55 and 64 represent the fastest growing demographic with these issues.  Recently, however, there’s been a potentially very major advance in treatment: the Robotic Spine Exoskeleton (RoSE). 
If caught when the patient is still growing, the first approach is usually to have them wear specialized braces that re-align the spine. While effective, this method has its share of drawbacks, and it hasn’t really advanced in 50 years. The RoSE system—designed by a team of Columbia University engineers—addresses many of these and promises to revolutionize this type of treatment for kyphosis, scoliosis, and other types of deformity. Let’s take a closer look at it.
The Drawbacks of Established Braces
Before getting into what the RoSE system does, it’s important to get a sense of the kinds of issues that arise from conventional bracing. Perhaps the most significant is that braces are not very reactive to the body limiting efficacy of treatment advances and becoming uncomfortable. No one likes to wear something that’s uncomfortable, so it’s little wonder that following through on treatment can be affected. In one study looking at the effectiveness of counselling to help with bracing, between 25 and 36 percent of patients ended up needing additional treatment.  This was largely due to lack of compliance and diminishing returns of the brace itself.
Clearly, something needed to be done.
Robotic & Reactive
The primary goal among the researchers and designers involved in the RoSE project was to address the above issues. They reasoned that a better patient experience would lead to better adherence to treatment, while holding that other modifications could be made to improve efficiency of the device. Their device consists of three rings placed over the upper, mid, and lower spine, all of which use sensory data to regulate their relative flexibility and range of motion.  Also, in contrast to conventional types, this device is able to apply pressure in one direction without impeding mobility in others.
Most groundbreaking is that the RoSE system is the first that takes on problems from a three-dimensional perspective. Instead of correcting one issue at a time—the sideways curve of scoliosis or the frontwards roll of kyphosis—this system works from a full perspective of the problem and can be set accordingly.  Furthermore, the device is reactive, so it adjusts to changes as things go along. Notably, initial research on eight wearers was promising: “Our results open up the possibility for designing spine braces that incorporate patient-specific torso stiffness characteristics,” noted Dr. David Roye, co-principal investigator. 
It’s little wonder that there’s excitement when it comes to this approach.
Looking Towards the Future
The researchers and designers associated with RoSE were all clear about one thing: this innovation is just a first step. According to Dr. Agrawal, one of the research team’s leaders, information gleaned from use of the system “may help predict which children can potentially benefit from bracing and avoid surgery.”  Ultimately, braces are just part of a larger suite of treatment approaches to spinal deformity. More severe cases, especially those caught when patients are adults, can include everything from nerve block or steroid injection to stabilization or decompression spine surgery.
The needs of the specific case dictate the approach, but the good news is that our understanding of spinal deformities as well as the means by which we can manage them is constantly evolving. Innovations like RoSE, alongside continual advances in surgical care, are making the world an easier place for those with kyphosis and scoliosis. While these issues are problematic, they can be overcome.
If you have scoliosis, kyphosis, or any other sort of spine deformity, the team at North American Spine is ready to help. The surgeons here are unmatched in their expertise in taking on a range of back problems, while ensuring patient satisfaction in a caring environment. Learn more about what they do by calling 469-638-0208 today!
- Good, Christopher R., Joshua D. Auerbach, Patrick T. O’Leary, and Thomas C. Schuler. 2011. “Adult Spine Deformity”. Current Reviews In Musculoskeletal Medicine4 (4): 159-167. Springer Nature. doi:10.1007/s12178-011-9101-z.
- “First Dynamic Spine Brace Characterises Spine Deformities – Spinal Surgery News”. 2018. Spinal Surgery News. Accessed December 27 2018. http://www.spinalsurgerynews.com/2018/08/first-dynamic-spine-brace-characterises-spine-deformities/31203.
- Karol LA, et al. 2018. “Effect Of Compliance Counseling On Brace Use And Success In Patients With Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis. – Pubmed – NCBI “. Nlm.Nih.Gov. Accessed December 27 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26738898.