How to stay comfortable while wearing a brace for scoliosis

Wearing a back brace as a result of scoliosis can be challenging for many kids, and it can be even more inconvenient if your child or teen is on vacation, swimming or attending camp.

“The brace is a plastic and foam device that presses on the spine to try and keep the curve from progressing,” explains C. Leigh Davis, MSPO, CPO, FAAOP, an Orthotist and Prosthetist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Our goal with the brace is to keep the curve from getting worse as the patient grows.”

While wearing a brace is an important step to avoid surgery for some children and teens, it can be difficult to wear a scoliosis brace consistently, depending on a child’s schedule.

“A lack of schedule during school breaks and participating in sports or outdoor activities can make it difficult to want to wear a brace consistently,” shares Joshua S. Murphy, MD, a Pediatric Orthopedic and Spine Surgeon at Children’s. “That said, wearing a back brace can be as important as taking medicine that is prescribed to you by your doctor. It’s crucial to stick with it, knowing consistent use can make a difference long-term.”

“Patients can wear their braces outside, but can be removed when at the pool or during extracurricular activities, so wear strategies can change,” Leigh adds. “They are often also sleeping longer during school breaks.”

“We want our patients to be able to live their lives and do the activities that they want to do, but consistency is key.”-C. Leigh Davis, MSPO, CPO, FAAOP, Orthotist and Prosthetist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Here are some tips on how your child can stay comfortable while getting maximum wear out of their scoliosis brace:

  1. Wear the brace while indoors. Don’t take the brace off while playing video games or playing inside. Save “off hours” for going outside, playing at the park or taking a dip in the pool. If your child attends a camp, they should take their brace but remember to always wear it while inside the cabin during rest time or bedtime.
  2. Reduce the amount of clothing they wear under their brace. We provide shirts with the brace, but your child or teen is also encouraged to wear thin tank tops or athletic wear that is lighter.
  3. Avoid skin irritation. Braces can rub on the skin. If this is an issue, request an appointment with your child’s orthotist, but parents can also try using corn starch or skin powder on the irritated area. Avoid applying lotion, as it can irritate the skin more. In addition, there is a chance of yeast or bacterial overgrowth with the use of different lotions. If the skin is chafed, Aquaphor can help with irritation until your child’s appointment.
  4. Clean the brace daily. It is important to clean your child’s brace every day with rubbing alcohol, using a wash cloth to scrub the inside of the brace. Some patients prefer to put the alcohol in a spray bottle. We suggest cleaning it each time your child takes a shower or bath and it will be dry when they get out.

“Wearing a back brace can be as important as taking medicine that is prescribed to you by your doctor. It’s crucial to stick with it, knowing consistent use can make a difference long-term.”–Joshua S. Murphy, MD, Pediatric Orthopedic and Spine Surgeon at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Why should my child wear a back brace?

Depending on the curvature of the spine, doctors may prescribe your child a back brace until they are done growing. “Typically, we recommend the use of a brace if the child or teen’s spinal curve is more than 20-25 degrees and they have not finished growing,” says Dr. Murphy.

There are two different types of braces a doctor may prescribe. How long your child or teen has to wear the scoliosis brace each day depends on the type of brace she has and the amount of growth they have remaining. Younger patients will often have to wear the brace for more hours in the day than older patients.

  • Providence brace, or a nighttime brace, is worn eight to 10 hours a day, and only at night. It is most suited for older patients and/or patients with smaller curves and who are at a lower risk.
  • Boston and Rigo Cheneau braces, or full-time braces, are worn anywhere from 13 hours a day up to 23 hours a day.

Whether your child is wearing their scoliosis brace just at night or for upward of 23 hours a day, it’s important to think about their comfort and be willing to work with the spine team when needed.

“We want our patients to be able to live their lives and do the activities that they want to do, but consistency is key,” Leigh concludes. “Research has proven that brace wear time is directly correlated with brace success. If you decrease wear time, it may increase the risk of surgery in the long run.”

 

 

Joshua Murphy, MD, is a Pediatric Orthopedic and Spine Surgeon at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. He is actively involved in orthopedic research with organizations, such as the Pediatric Spine Study Group and the Children’s Orthopaedic and Trauma Infection Consortium for Evidence Based Study (CORTICES). He currently participates in or leads a variety of prospective and retrospective studies within the Children’s primarily involving pediatric spine or pediatric trauma and infection.

C. Leigh Davis, MSPO, CPO, FAAOP, is an Orthotist and Prosthetist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She has been at Children’s for nine years. She attended Georgia Institute of Technology and earned her master’s in prosthetics and orthotics. Leigh’s clinical area of interest includes orthotic treatment of idiopathic scoliosis.