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What is a Spinal Brace?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Jan 30, 2024
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A spinal brace is a device worn on the body for various reasons. A spinal brace may be used for medical reasons, such as to encourage spinal fusion after surgery, to protect the spine after surgery, or to attempt to correct spinal curvatures such as scoliosis without needing to resort to surgical procedures. A brace may also be worn without the guidance of a doctor, if one wants to improve posture, manage back pain, or protect the lower back while lifting heavy items, for example. Braces are often custom fit to the person wearing the brace.

A spinal brace will either be a rigid plastic brace, restricting movement completely in one or all areas of the spine, or a soft brace which simply adds extra support and can help to take the pressure off certain vertebrae if they are causing pain. Spinal braces are made in different sizes and designs depending on the area of the spine they are restricting. Cervical collars, for example, restrict movement in the neck; lumbar braces will restrict movement in the lower back. TLSO, or Milwaukee, braces are a type of full torso spinal brace.

Depending on the spinal condition, full torso spinal braces can be designed differently. Some, often referred to as body jackets, go under the armpits and reach to the upper back and chest as well as down to the hips. Others may incorporate a neck brace into this design in order to pull the neck and shoulders back as well. Another design connects a hip and leg brace to the torso brace, which prevents the wearer from bending at the waist at all; people wearing this brace must remain in a reclined or flat position. Bracing is often used as a first option for treatment of a spinal curvature problem.

In general, a spinal brace worn after surgery, or prescribed to correct spinal curvature, needs to be worn 24 hours a day, and only removed for bathing. Braces are frequently prescribed after spinal fusion surgery to restrict all movement in the spine for a few months, because this is necessary in order for the fusion to grow and heal. Braces worn optionally, such as for postural correction, mild back pain, or to encourage safe lifting practices, are only worn as needed. Most spinal braces are applied using velcro; post-surgical braces are generally designed in two pieces, a front and back, to make it easier to apply and remove. Others may be designed in one fixed piece with an open side that is simply slipped on and tightened.

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