Ten-Year Follow-Up Evaluation of a School Screening Program for Scoliosis: Is the Forward-Bending Test an Accurate Diagnostic Criterion for the Screening of Scoliosis?

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Study Design.A 10-year follow-up evaluation of the effectiveness of school screening for scoliosis performed in a closed island population.Objectives.To evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of methods used for screening scoliosis and to re-examine the long-term effectiveness of the school scoliosis screening program.Summary of Background Data.The diagnostic accuracy of the forward-bending test and the long-term efficacy of the screening programs have not been clearly established.Methods.In 1987, 2700 pupils aged 8 to 16 years from the island of Samos were screened for scoliosis. The Adams forward-bending test, Moire topography, the scoliometer, and the humpometer were used. Radiologic evaluation of the spine was available for each pupil and the number of false-negative and false-positive results of the screening methods was calculated. Subsequently, sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values were estimated for each screening technique. Pupils found positive for spinal deformity were then followed up regularly at yearly intervals. In 1997, all positive subjects attended a 10-year clinical and radiologic follow-up, and the remaining subjects were re-evaluated by a postal questionnaire and were clinically examined if necessary.Results.Spinal deformity was found in 153 (5.66%) pupils. Scoliosis (defined as a spinal curvature ≥10°) was found in 32 pupils, for a prevalence of 1.18%. For scoliosis, the Adams forward-bending test showed a number of false-negative results (in five cases), for a sensitivity of 84.37% and specificity of 93.44%. The sensitivities of Moire topography, the humpometer, and the scoliometer were 100%, 93.75%, and 90.62%, respectively, and specificity was 85.38%, 78.11%, and 79.76% respectively. The negative predictive value of the forward-bending test was inferior to those of the other methods. During this scoliosis screening program, if cutoff limits for referral had been used, such as the asymmetry of two Moire fringes, a humpogram deformity of (D+H) = 10 mm, and 8° of scoliometer angle, it would have been possible to reduce radiologic examination by 89.4%. Three (0.11%) pupils aged between 12 and 14 years with scoliotic deformities greater than 20° underwent satisfactory nonoperative treatment with Boston braces. One pupil with a 40° thoracic curvature, underwent satisfactory surgical treatment because of progression 1 year later. Of the 121 spinal deformities with an initial Cobb angle less than 10°, 44 (35.8%), and of the 29 scoliotic deformities with an initial Cobb angle between 10° and 20°, 14 (48.3%) progressed (a Cobb angle difference of at least 5° in more than one examination). Observation and physiotherapy were the only treatments applied to all except one of the pupils in these groups.Conclusions.The Adams forward-bending test cannot be considered a safe diagnostic criterion for the early detection of scoliosis (especially when it is used as the only screening tool) because it results in an unacceptable number of false-negative findings. For the early detection of scoliosis, a combination of back-shape analysis methods can be safely used with the introduction of cutoff limits for referral being a useful procedure. The incidence of significant scoliosis is low, and its natural history seems to be independent of early detection. The widespread use of school scoliosis screening with the use of the forward-bending test must be questioned.

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