Your physician may recommend the use of a neck or back brace if you are diagnosed with a spinal disorder, deformity, or potential problem that can by helped through the use of external structural support. Neck braces stabilize the cervical spine after neck surgery, trauma to the neck, or as an alternative to surgery.
- What is a neck or back brace?
- Why are braces used to treat neck and back conditions?
- What are the different types of braces?
What is neck or back brace?
Neck and back braces are types of external structural supports. Neck and back braces are most often used to treat low back pain, trauma, infections, muscular weakness, neck conditions, and osteoporosis. They immobilize and support the spine when there is a condition that needs to be treated. Depending on the model that is used, they can put the spine in a neutral, upright, hyper-extended, flexed, or lateral-flexed position. There are many different types of support braces available.
Why are braces used to treat neck and back conditions?
Spinal braces are used to:
Braces offer a safe, non-invasive way to prevent future problems or help heal from a current condition. Braces can lead to a loss of muscle function due to inactivity. Bracing can create dependence. Some people, even when healed, feel dependent on a brace device for support.
Neck braces are the type of spinal brace you most commonly see people wearing. There are several types available, including:
- Soft Collar. A flexible brace placed around the neck. It is typically used after a more rigid collar has been worn for the major healing. A soft collar is used as a transition to wearing no collar.
- Philadelphia Collar. A more rigid/stiff collar with front and back pieces that attaches with Velcro on the sides. A Philadelphia collar is usually worn 24 hours a day until your physician instructs you to remove it. This collar is used for conditions such as a relatively stable cervical fracture, cervical fusion surgery, or a cervical strain. Another similar type is the Miami cervical brace.
- Sterno-Occipital (stern-oh-ox-ip-ital) Mandibular(man-dib-you-lar) Immobilization Device (SOMI). A brace that holds your neck in a straight line that matches up with your spine. It offers rigid support to a damaged neck and prevents movement. With this brace, you cannot bend or twist your neck. Restricting motion helps the muscles and bones to heal from injury or surgery.
- Halo. A brace used to immobilize the head and neck. A halo brace is the most rigid of the cervical braces. It is only used after complex cervical spine surgery or if there is an unstable cervical fracture. The halo looks a lot like the word sounds. It has a metal ring (halo) that goes around your head and secures to your skull with four metal pins. The ring then attaches by four bars to a vest that is worn on your chest to bear the weight of the brace. The Halo is worn 24 hours a day until the spine injury heals.
- Trochanteric (trow-can-ter-ick) Belt. Usually prescribed for sacroiliac joint pain or to stabilize pelvic fractures. The belt fits around the pelvis. The belt is about five to eight centimeters wide and buckles in front, just like a regular belt.
- Lumbosacral (lum-bo-sack-ral) and Sacroiliac (sack-ro-ili-ack) Belt. Helps to stabilize the lower back. These belts are usually made of heavy cotton reinforced by lightweight stays. The pressure can be adjusted through laces on the side or back of the belt. Lumbosacral belts range from 10 to 15 centimeters, and 20 to 30 centimeters in width. The sacroiliac prevents motion by compressing the joints between the hipbone and sacrum at the base of the spine.
- Corset. When people think of corsets, they usually conjure up images of women from earlier centuries who used them to reduce waist size, not treating back problems. Today, corsets refer to a type of back brace that provides rigid support for the back. Corsets vary in length but extend over the buttocks with shoulder straps to provide support. Corsets can lace from the back, side, or front. A short corset is typically used for low back pain. Longer corsets are used for problems in the mid to lower thoracic spine. There are metal stays that provide the appropriate rigidity and support for the back.
- Rigid Brace. Usually prescribed for low back pain and spinal instability when standard back supports are not stiff enough. Rigid braces usually have upright pieces that curve to the shape of your lower spine and pelvis, with bands across the thoracic region of your spine. There are also fabric straps on the braces that provide pressure in the front. Some common types of rigid braces are:
- Williams Brace. A rigid brace with no vertical uprights in the middle, allowing you to bend.
- Chair-back Brace. A rigid brace that holds the lumbar spine in the neutral position and limits sideways and rotating movement of the lower spine.
- Raney Flexion Jacket. A rigid brace that reduces curvature of the lumbar spine by holding it in a neutral tilt.
- Hyperextension Brace. Designed to prevent excessive bending. Hyperextension braces are often prescribed to treat frontal compression fractures that have occurred where the thoracic and lumbar areas of the spine meet. They can also be used after surgery for spinal fusion. They take pressure off the anterior or front of the thoracic vertebrae by restricting flexion (bending) of the thoracic and lumbar spine. Hyperextension braces have a front rectangular metal frame that puts pressure over the upper sternum or breast bone and the pubic bone, allowing the spine to extend. The brace also applies pressure over the T-10 level (the tenth vertebra in your thoracic spine). The hyperextension brace braces provides "three-point stabilization" to the spine through a front abdominal pad, a chest pad, and a rear pad at the level of the fracture. Knight Taylor and Jewett are the most common.
- Molded Jacket. Designed to distribute pressure widely over a large area. It stabilizes the spine from the neck to the hips, distributing pressure evenly and taking excess pressure off overloaded or unstable areas. The molded jacket was originally made of plaster of Paris. Now it is usually made of molded plastic.
- Lifting Belt. Designed to reduce low back strain and muscle fatigue that can occur when you are lifting heavy objects. It circles around your waist, covering the lumbar region of your spine, and closes in the front. Lifting belts are usually made of cloth or canvas. Some models also have lordosis pads to contour to the curvature of your spine.
Contact the Spine Program at 206-860-5383 to make an appointment or for more information.