Spinal braces are used to help treat spine problems with or without surgery. The term orthotics can be associated with bracing and refers to different types of flexible, rigid or semi-rigid structured materials that are sometimes custom-made to fit a patient's individual need. In general, bracing may be prescribed to help manage back or neck pain, immobilize the spine, and/or prevent (or correct) deformity progression.
A spinal brace may be the only treatment a patient requires; for example, short-term use while a whiplash injury heals. A soft cervical collar can lift some of the weight of the skull off tender neck tissues and restrict movement that contributes to pain. In adolescents, a brace may be worn for many months to treat and control progression of scoliosis. After spinal fusion surgery, bracing may be prescribed to prevent movement of the spine and provide additional support during the fusion process and healing.
Postoperatively, a brace may be prescribed if the patient uses tobacco (smokes), is obese, diabetic, or has a condition that may interfere with healing and fusion. Although modern spine surgical techniques and technologies have reduced the need for postoperative bracing, sometimes it is still necessary. Your spine surgeon is pleased to explain bracing and if, or why, it is recommended.
There are many different types of braces that are usually categorized by the part of the spine treated. Many are listed and described.
Neck braces support the head and cervical spine
A soft collar is made of foam and covered in cloth. It wraps around the neck with Velcro® closure and is used to provide temporary support following a whiplash-type injury. This additional support rests the muscles or may be used when transitioning from a more rigid brace so as to allow strengthening of the muscles. Depending on your instructions, a soft collar may be worn 24 hours a day or only during times when more support is needed, such as with prolonged sitting.
A Philadelphia collar is a rigid, two-piece brace that fits under the chin and supports the back of the head. This brace is usually worn 24 hours a day during fracture healing or after fusion surgery. This type of brace may be used to stabilize a trauma patient during transport.
A SOMI (sterno-occipital-mandibular immobilization) brace holds the head and neck completely still and in line with the rest of the spine. The SOMI brace has a mandibular piece that holds the jaw and chin, an occipital piece that holds the back of the head, and a sterno piece that braces the chest and upper back. Your spine specialist can adjust the pieces to help make them more comfortable.
A Halo brace completely immobilizes the head and neck. It is only used in cases of extreme spinal instability such spinal cord injury or if there is a risk of spinal cord injury. The halo is a metal ring that encircles the head and is secured to the skull with metal pins. The halo attaches to a vest with four metal bars that support the weight of the head.
Upper back support braces may be worn more long-term to provide pain relief from postural problems including adult scoliosis, kyphosis caused by osteoporosis or trauma, or large breasts. This type of brace may resemble a vest or bra and can extend to provide cervical or lumbar support.
A rib support belt is an elastic belt worn around the ribs. It provides upper back support and stability. The belts are specially designed to fit male or female anatomy.
Lumbosacral belts or braces support the spine and lower back muscles while limiting motion. The width of the belt varies depending on the level or levels of the spine generating pain. The belt can be made of elastic, foam, or plastic and is often made with adjustable Velcro closures.
A lifting belt may be worn during moderate to heavy lifting. It is only to be worn during the lifting motion to help preserve muscle tone. Appropriate lifting techniques maximize the belts benefit.
Abdominal support belts help relieve lower back pain and strain caused by belly fat or pregnancy. Depending on the design and the patient's medical condition, the belt compresses the abdominal area or lifts the abdomen to enhance spinal balance.
A corset is frequently made of heavy canvas with metal or plastic supports, and laces at the front or sides. The width varies depending on the patient's medical condition. The corset design can include shoulder straps or extend over the hips or buttocks. A corset is generally recommended for limited or non-continuous wear to help prevent loss of muscle tone.
Rigid braces are available in many designs and provide the greatest stability and motion prevention. These may be used following spinal surgery to help promote spinal fusion. They may also be used long-term as an alternative to surgery in adults with scoliosis pain.
There are many types of bracing and orthotic options that your spine specialist will be pleased to discuss with you. The Piedmont Spine Center staff understands that you may have many questions and concerns about brace treatment such as:
We look forward to answering your questions and helping you to resolve your concerns about any treatment offered by Piedmont Spine Center.