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A back brace is a device designed to limit the motion of the spine in cases of fracture or in post-operative fusions. Limiting the motion of the spine enhances the healing process and minimizes the patient's discomfort.
Common back braces include:
- Rigid (Hard) braces : These braces are form-fitting plastic molds that restrict motion by as much as 50%; and
- Soft braces : Elastic braces that limit forward motion of the spine and assist in setting spinal fusions or supporting the spine during occasions of stress (for example, employment requiring the lifting of heavy loads).
Bracing for scoliosis
Back braces are also commonly prescribed to treat adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, as they may stop the progression of spinal curvature in a growing child/adolescent. In some cases, the back brace may also help decrease the amount of curvature in the spine. A variety of brace styles are available; the Boston brace is the most commonly used brace for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). Other designs include the Milwaukee brace, the Charleston bending brace, and the SpineCor (a soft brace) in the United States, Canada and Europe. In Europe, however, the SPoRT and Cheneau braces are also used. There has been considerable research and information published in reputable journals on back braces for scoliosis. Issues like patient compliance with treatment, psycho-social impact of brace use, and exercise with bracing have been looked at. Quality of Life research has been attempted, but is difficult due to a current lack of instruments. Bracing is the primary treatment for AIS in curves that are considered to be moderate in their severity and are likely due to progress (determined by curve pattern/type and the patient's structural maturity).
One large issue in bracing for scoliosis is patient compliance, as mentioned above. Compliance is often impacted by the other above-mentioned factors (psycho-social comfort, exercise), but there are others also, including ability to eat and move, pain, and physical deformation. Back braces, especially the Boston brace, puts a great deal of pressure on the abdomen and can make digestion uncomfortable. Scoliosis braces, like those used for correcting post-operatively and for fractures, inhibit motion to a large extent, though percentages are difficult to find. Patients frequently complain about the inability to tie their own shoes, sit on the floor, etc. Bracing is also painful, though the body can adapt to tolerate the pain. Braces can also deform the patient's existing bone structures, most notably the hips, though there have been complaints about rib cage deformities as well.
A Boston brace is a form of thoracolumbosacral orthosis (TLSO). It is the most commonly used brace in the United States. It is a symmetrical brace. It corrects curvature by pushing with small pads placed against the ribs, which are also used for rotational correction (here it tends to be slightly less successful, however). These pads are usually placed in the back corners of the brace so that the body is thrust forward against the brace's front, which acts to hold the body upright. The brace opens to the back, and usually runs from just above a chair's seat (when a person is seated) to around shoulder-blade height. Because of this, it is not particularly useful in correcting very high curves. It also does not correct hip misalignment, as it uses the hips as a base point. This brace is typically worn 20–23 hours a day.
The Milwaukee brace was a very common brace towards the earlier part of the twentieth century in the United States. It is a largely symmetrical brace. The brace is made with a harness-like hip area and metal strips rising to the chin, where a collar is. Between the hips and chin, there are corrective thrusts given with large pads. There is little rotational correction. Today this brace is generally used for very high thoracic curves that are severe and out of range of the Boston. This brace is typically worn 20–23 hours a day.
Charleston bending brace
This brace was designed with the idea that compliance would increase if the brace were worn only at night. It is asymmetrical. The brace fights against the body's curve by over-correcting. It grips the hips much like the Boston, and rises to approximately the same height, but pushes the patient's body to the side. It is used in single, thoracolumbar curves in patients 12–14 years of age (before structural maturity) who have flexible curves in the range of 25–35 Cobb degrees.
This is currently the only widely used soft brace. The brace has a pelvic unit from which strong elastic bands wrap around the body, pulling against curves, rotations, and imbalances. It is most successful when the patient has relatively small and simple curvatures, is structurally young, and compliant—it is usually worn 20 hours a day. The patient is not to have it off for more than two hours at a time. While it is expected that patients can participate in activities as strenuous as competitive gymnastics while in brace, it also pulls down against shoulder misalignments which compresses the spine. Long-term results are also, largely, in the making.[clarification needed] SpineCor is also the only scoliosis brace for adults. This brace was invented in Montréal, Canada and is used across the country as well as being widely used in other countries.
SPoRT stands for "Symmetric, Patient-oriented, Rigid, Three-Dimensional active," which it intends[clarification needed] to be. The brace is symmetrical, built with a plastic frame reinforced with aluminum rods. The brace corrects hip misalignments through padding. Large, sweeping, thick pads push the spine to a corrected position. To prevent overcorrection, however, the brace also has "stop" pads holding the spine from moving too far in the other direction. The brace runs from just above the chair to T3 in many instances—it is successful at correcting high thoracic curves. In front, it goes around the patient's breast and up, even to pushing against the collar bone. Though it sounds restricting, it has been tested for comfort while participating in athletics. The theory holds that the support that the brace gives will[clarification needed] help the patient's body learn to work as though it had no curve muscularly. Then the muscles would be able to support the spine, preventing further collapse. This brace is used for all curve patterns and types, even ones considered past brace treatment by other schools. The brace is typically worn 22 hours a day, and often coupled with a physical therapy program.
This brace is designed for use with the Schroth physical therapy method. It utilizes large, sweeping pads to push the body against its curve and into blown out spaces. The Schroth theory holds that the deformity can be corrected through retraining muscles and nerves to learn what a straight spine feels like, and breathing deeply into areas crushed by the curvature to help gain flexibility and to expand. The brace helps patients keep doing their exercises throughout the day. This brace is asymmetrical, and is used for patients of all degrees of severity and maturity. It is often worn 20–23 hours a day. The brace principally contracts to allow for lateral and longditutal rotation and movement.
Bracing for other purposes
A thoracolumbosacral orthosis (TLSO), is a two-piece plastic brace supporting the spine from the thoracic vertebrae of the chest, to the base of the spine at the sacrum. It comes in a variety of forms and can be used for treating severe or unstable compression fractures as well as other injuries and conditions.
A Jewett brace is a hyperextension brace that prevents the patient from bending forward too much. It is often used to facilitate healing of an anterior wedge compression fracture involving the T10 to L3 vertebrae.
A corset brace is similar to a traditional corset. It typically has metal or plastic stays to limit forward movement. It puts pressure over the belly to take pressure off of the spine and promote healing.
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