Spinal Bracing: A Treatment Option for Spinal Fractures
Depending on the type of spinal fracture you have, your doctor may recommend that you wear a brace as the fracture heals. If the fracture is a stable fracture—not causing any neurologic injury or likely to cause neurologic damage—you may have to wear a brace. (If the fracture is unstable—meaning that the vertebra is so fractured, it can't provide support to the spine and that there's likely neurologic damage—bracing may not be a good treatment option for you. You'll perhaps need surgery.)
You will wear the brace for just a short period of time; the brace will support your spine as the vertebra or vertebrae heal. In a stable fracture, the vertebra can still carry its normal load without the risk of further injury. That means that for the most part, the vertebra can still do its job of helping you move. However, a fractured vertebra simply doesn't "work" as well as a normal vertebra, so your spine could use some help in carrying the load. The brace will provide that extra support during the healing period.
Another benefit of the brace is that it restricts your movements. A spinal fracture can be very painful, depending on the severity and location of the fracture. Even the slightest movement can cause pain, so a brace can help you take it easy and give your body an opportunity to heal.
Your doctor will recommend the best kind of brace for your fracture. Some braces used for spinal fractures include:
- the halo brace, which is used for cervical spine fractures. This is a form of traction. Traction pulls parts of the spine in different directions in order to alleviate nerve compression or to realign the spine.
- a thoracolumbar sacral orthosis (TLSO), which used for thoracolumbar or low back fractures
- a custom-made brace
- cervical collar (neck brace)
The doctor or a nurse will also thoroughly explain how and when to wear the brace. It's important that you follow their instructions exactly because that will make it more likely that your body will heal correctly. This includes wearing it for as long as you're told to: if you're supposed to wear the brace 24 hours a day, you have to make a commitment to doing that, even if it seems inconvenient.
You shouldn't have to wear the brace very long because you don't want to become dependent on it. It's a great support for your bones and muscles as your spine heals, but in order for your bones and muscles to become strong and healthy again, they can't always be supported by the brace. Most likely, physical therapy will be part of your treatment plan, in addition to the brace. Physical therapy will help you strengthen your muscles after wearing the brace, plus it will teach you ways to keep a healthy back.