What is a Halo Brace?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 May 2020
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A halo brace is a special brace which is worn to immobilize the head and neck. These braces are classically used after people have incurred spinal injuries in their cervical spine, to allow the spine a chance to heal, much like a plaster cast keeps the bones in a broken arm as still as possible while they heal. Wearing a halo brace can be uncomfortable and it requires some lifestyle adjustments, but the alternative is lying in bed while the injuries heal, which in addition to being extremely boring can also be dangerous, as prolonged bed rest contributes to clots, the formation of pressure sores, and other problems.

Halo braces are fitted by screwing a metal ring into the skull, attaching rods to the ring, and fitting the rods to a specialized plastic jacket. The design of the brace keeps the head and neck as still as possible. A liner is used under the jacket to reduce sores and skin irritation, and the liners can be changed periodically with prolonged wearing of the halo brace.

While in a halo brace, a patient has to exercise special care. The halo cannot be bumped against anything or grabbed onto, and patients need to sleep on their backs, having someone check the brace to ensure that it is still tight before they get up in the morning. At any signs of unusual discomfort or looseness, the patient needs to go back onto his or her back to have the halo brace checked, and it may be necessary to go to the doctor for an adjustment.

Patients also have to care for the pin sites to reduce the risk of infection, and they cannot engage in strenuous activity. Because it is difficult to bathe in a halo brace, patients are usually told to stay cool and dry, and to avoid dirt. Powders like cornstarch may be used to absorb moisture around the jacket so that the skin does not become irritated.

Halo braces may require periodic checking and adjustment, which should only be performed by an experienced medical professional. Spinal damage severe enough to require the use of a halo is also serious enough that any disruption in the healing process could be a problem. Even with a halo, success rates vary from 15-85%, depending on the nature of the injury, the treatment plan, and the patient's ability to comply with the care plan.

The big advantage to a halo brace is that it allows a patient to move around. In addition to improving quality of life for the patient, this reduces the risk of complications associated with bedrest.

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