What is a scoliosis back brace?
Your backbones help you to walk, sit and stand upright. Sometimes your backbones (also called your spine) can start to grow in a curvature to one side. When this happens, it’s called scoliosis (pronounced “sko-lee-OH-sis.”) If you still have a lot of growing left to do before you reach your full height, and your scoliosis is serious enough to affect your growth, your doctor might ask you to wear a brace.
If you imagine your backbones like a tree, then a brace is like putting a stake in the ground next to the tree. By tying the stake to the tree, the tree is supported and encouraged to grow up straight and tall.
Braces help your backbones grow straight so that the curvature doesn’t get so big that you need to have surgery. For more serious spinal curvatures, bracing helps keep spines as straight as possible until you are old enough for your spine surgery. Spinal surgery is an operation for a big curvature that will affect your growth and life. Wearing a brace every may help you avoid having surgery. For every three kids who need surgery, at least one could have avoided surgery by wearing a brace regularly.
How does the brace work?
There are many kinds of back braces, but the one we use most frequently for scoliosis is a plastic shell that fits all the way around your body, running from your armpits to just above your hips. The brace is worn underneath your clothing, and most people can’t even tell you’re wearing one. If your doctor recommends a brace, you will visit an orthotist – someone who is trained to fit your brace – and the orthotist will create a brace made special for your body.
Once you have your brace, your doctor will have adjustments made so the brace fits comfortably for you. It should not pinch you or irritate your skin because the brace is made specifically for your body.
- After you’ve worn your brace for two weeks, your doctor will take special X-rays of your spine while you wear your brace, to see if it is working.
- Your doctor may adjust your brace to make sure it’s helping your backbones grow straight.
- You will have ongoing checkups with your doctor to evaluate the progress with your bracing and curvature.
How long do I wear a brace?
Once you have your brace, you will wear it 18-20 hours a day. You will wear your brace while you sleep, go to school and watch TV. You can remove it to shower, swim, exercise, play sports or for other brief exceptions. The more time you spend in your brace, the better it will help your spine to grow, giving you a greater chance of avoiding surgery later.
How long you have your brace depends on how soon your scoliosis was found and how many years of growth you have left. You will wear the brace until your body stops growing, which is about:
- 14 years old for girls
- 16 years old for boys