Scoliosis is a lateral or side-to-side curvature of the spine, which is a column of small bones called vertebrae that are stacked upon one another. The spine, or vertebral column, is the main skeletal support of the human body; it begins at the back of the neck and extends to the top of the buttocks. Though every spine has natural front to back curves, if lateral curves form as the spine grows during adolescence, a scoliosis back brace may be prescribed to correct the curves. Left uncorrected, pronounced curves can cause imbalance, muscle weakness, and pain, and even interfere with breathing in extreme cases.
A scoliosis back brace is the typical treatment used for curves that reach 25 degrees. Once it is determined this is the appropriate course of treatment, a scoliosis back brace is generally worn until the spine stops growing. This often means a brace is worn for several years. Most braces are worn at all times, including during sleep, though they can be removed when bathing. This is important because the goal is to keep the spine properly aligned at all times, which encourages it to grow straight. However, some patients may be permitted to remove the brace for an hour or two a day to participate in activities such as swimming.
In the past, the only type of scoliosis back brace available was the Milwaukee brace. Though effective, this brace is rather bulky and has metal bars immobilizing the neck that are impossible to disguise. Now, the most common brace is the Boston brace. This is called a low-profile brace because it begins under the arms and can be completely covered with clothing. This type of brace is form-fitting and made with a plastic that is a bit more forgiving and comfortable. There are also some braces that are worn only at night, such as the Charleston or Providence, but these are not utilized as frequently as the Boston brace.
A scoliosis back brace is generally worn over a t-shirt or undershirt, preferably 100% cotton, to prevent skin irritation. Patients are encouraged to keep up with brace cleaning and maintenance, and to closely monitor skin to prevent issues. Wearing the brace as tightly as possible will prevent rubbing. The brace can be a bit uncomfortable at first because it does restrict movement somewhat, but most scoliosis patients are able to resume all their usual activities once they adjust to the brace.