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What is the Milwaukee Brace?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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The Milwaukee brace is a type of back brace which is worn to correct curves in the mid back, also known as the high thoracic spine. This type of brace is among the most restrictive of back braces, because it runs from the pelvis all the way to the neck, and for this reason, it is only prescribed when it is the most suitable option for a patient. Patients with lower spinal curves may wear a Boston brace or another type of brace which is less restrictive.

This spinal brace was introduced in the 1940s for the purpose of slowing the progression of spinal curvatures like scoliosis. The Milwaukee brace became the standard of care until other, less restrictive braces were introduced, and it continues to be used today for correction and control of curvature in the high spine.

This brace is introduced in childhood, and worn through adolescence as the body grows to control the curvature of the spine. The brace consists of a pelvic girdle attached to a series of rods and pads which connect with a neck ring. While the brace is worn, it holds the back in place. To be effective, a Milwaukee brace usually needs to be worn 23 hours a day for several years. While wearing the brace, the patient should be able to engage in normal physical activity, and in fact, this is encouraged to promote health.

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For patients, wearing a Milwaukee brace can be very frustrating. The brace can feel restrictive, if it is not fitted properly it can chafe the skin, and it can damage clothing and make it difficult to wear fashionable clothes. Some of these problems can be addressed by wearing a brace which is properly fitted and getting a doctor to confirm that the brace is properly fitted. Observing a proper skin care regimen to protect the skin is also important, as is putting the brace on correctly so that it does not twist on the body. Fashionwise, the patient will need to wear loose clothing, but some loose styles can be worn fashionably, and some charitable organizations provide patients in braces with fashion consultants to help them dress more confidently.

Also known as a cervico-thoraco-lumbo-sacral orthosis, the Milwaukee brace can be custom made, using a mold of the patient's body, or put together with prefabricated parts which are adjusted by a doctor. Patients need to periodically see their doctors to monitor the progress with the brace, and so that the doctor can make adjustments as needed, including fitting new braces as the patient grows older. Although the brace is not exactly pleasant to wear, the alternatives are worse; the patient may require surgery to rod and fuse the spine, for example, or the patient may be left with severe spinal curvature which impedes quality of life.

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Discuss this Article

ZipLine
Post 3

@discographer-- The Bostan brace is for the realignment of the lower part of the spine whereas the Milwaukee brace works on the upper part. So they are not interchangeable. A doctor will prescribed one or the other depending on the type of spine problem an which part of the spine is affected.

SteamLouis
Post 2

@discographer-- Living with a Milwaukee brace is difficult. But you are right that things are a bit better now than they were before.

Previously, Milwaukee braces had chin pads. This put pressure up towards the chin and children would have misaligned teeth or jaws as a result. That's why most also had to wear braces.

The chin pad has now been replaced with just a ring that goes around the neck. So there isn't pressure placed on the jaw. This makes it much easier for people with the brace to sit, talk and eat.

discographer
Post 1

I wasn't aware that the Milwaukee brace is still being used. I thought that new types of braces had replaced it like the Boston brace. I am guessing that the Milwaukee braces of today fit better and a little more comfortably than sixty or seventy years ago though.

I also agree with the article that although wearing this brace is difficult, the alternatives are even more difficult. I hope everyone who needs a brace recovers and becomes healthy quickly. I also hope that doctors will come up with more comfortable, less restrictive braces for scoliosis patients so that they can continue their life normally. It must be especially difficult for children and adolescents. Fitting in can be an important issue for children at that age and wearing a brace may make that more difficult.

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