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What is a spine brace for scoliosis?


Spine braces are the most common nonsurgical option for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis—a condition in which the spine curves more than usual during a young teen’s major growth spurt. While there are different styles and types of braces, all of them are custom fitted to your child. Wearing a brace can help slow the progression of—and in some cases, correct—a spinal curve.

Using an expertly-made brace designed by an experienced orthotist gives your child the best odds of avoiding surgery in the future. Children’s Mercy partners with the Hanger Clinic to provide an in-house orthotist if you would like to coordinate your brace appointments with your medical appointments.

How does the brace work?


A spine brace works by using gentle pressure in key places on the torso to bring the spine back towards alignment. Wearing the brace, sometimes together with physical therapy exercises to strengthen the muscles and expand the lungs, helps your child’s body to prevent a spinal curve from progressing and, in many cases, decrease the degree of curvature.

Braces are designed to be worn under clothing, with a specially designed seamless body sock made of coolmax material, thin shirt or tank top underneath. If your doctor recommends full-time usage, this can mean up to 16-20 hours each day in the brace. While this is an adjustment, most kids find that eventually, they become comfortable wearing the brace at home, school, and overnight. Usually, kids can remove the brace during bathing, swimming, sports and PE, or simply to take a break from it for a little while each day.

Finding the best fit for the brace


Your orthotist is the person who will design and build the actual brace for you. It’s their job to make sure you get the best fit so you have the most potential to benefit from your device. But progress improves significantly when kids closely follow their doctor’s instructions for wearing the brace.

Your child’s provider may recommend a compliance monitor in the brace to help them track your usage between visits. 

Choosing the Right Brace

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Your spine care team—including your orthopedic doctor, orthotist, radiologist, and nurses—will all work together with you to create a brace that’s just right for your child. We’ll start by doing a thorough examination of your child and taking x-rays and 3D images of your child with our EOS low-dose, fully body imaging technology. Then, we’ll discuss the options for bracing.

Our spine care team members, led by Dr. Nigel Price, travel internationally to train with the leading-edge experts in non-surgical treatment for scoliosis. We will work together with your child to create a brace and exercise plan that is optimized for them.

Boston Brace and Boston Brace 3D

The Boston Brace has been a popular choice for non-operative curve correction for many years. The newest version, the Boston Brace 3D, can be custom made for your child using 3D imaging technology to create a brace that’s exactly fitted for them. The Boston Brace is a hard plastic brace that usually fastens at the back and is equipped with a thermal sensor to track the wearer’s usage. Its low profile makes it well-suited to be less conspicuous under clothing.

Rigo 3D Brace

The Rigo Cheneau 3D Brace is a rigid, asymmetric custom brace designed to be used in conjunction with physical therapy techniques to achieve curve correction. It fastens in the front to allow the wearer more independence with taking it on and off. Children’s Mercy is one of only a few locations in North America to offer Rigo Cheneau trained orthotists and certified Schroth method physical therapists.

Living with a scoliosis brace

 

Community Support

Online and in person support groups for kids with scoliosis can be helpful to families. Here, your child can talk with others who are going through the same thing and older teens with scoliosis who serve as mentors.

One helpful youth-led organization is called Curvy Girls, which serves the 80% of young people with scoliosis who are girls.

The National Scoliosis Foundation also provides great resources that many patients and families have found helpful.

Life with a scoliosis brace can be challenging. Many kids are diagnosed with scoliosis around middle school age, which is already a time of transitions and increased self-awareness. It will feel strange at first when your child can’t bend over to pick up a dropped pencil or has to adjust their usual sleep position. But most kids find they adapt pretty quickly and can continue their favorite activities with some modifications.

Your spine care team at Children’s Mercy will help your family navigate these challenges. We can connect you with pediatric mental health and counseling resources if your child is struggling with adjusting to the brace, reactions from peers, or other concerns.

The benefits of braces for scoliosis 


The greatest benefit to wearing the brace is having a much higher chance of avoiding surgery in the future. The goal of bracing is to keep your child’s curve from progressing and in some cases, improve the curve for better alignment of the spine.

Because the brace is custom-fitted to your child, they will usually need a new one every 12-18 months to accommodate their growth over time. Once they have completed their growth, we will slowly decrease the amount of time they wear the brace each day until they are completely independent from it.

Speak the language: Scoliosis bracing terms

  • Cobb angle – A way to measure the degree of curvature of the spine from an x-ray image to determine if the curve is getting better or worse over time.
  • EOS Imaging – The EOS system is a low-dose imaging system that allows your spine care team to capture 3D pictures of your child’s spine. It can capture images while the person is standing, sitting, or bending over to give your doctor a clearer picture of the spine, and uses ultra-low doses of radiation for your child’s safety.
  • Orthotist – An orthotist is a specially-trained health professional who designs and builds medical supportive devices. In order to become an orthotist, you must get a master's degree, a residency and certification.
  • Rigo 3D Bracing – This type of scoliosis brace was originally developed by Dr. Jacques Cheneau and later improved by Dr. Manuel Rigo. It is designed to improve spinal alignment in three dimensions, and works together with Schroth physical therapy exercises to optimize effectiveness. Children’s Mercy is one of only a few locations in the U.S. to offer these types of braces.
  • Schroth method – This is a physical therapy approach named for its founder, German physical therapist Katharina Schroth. The Schroth method helps strengthen muscles to improve posture, reduce pain, and prevent progression of the curve in people with scoliosis.