Braces are stabilizing devices for the spine. They are most often used when limiting motion is required for healing, such as after neck or back surgery, or in the case of a spinal fracture. They can also be helpful in improving posture, addressing spinal deformities and treating mechanical neck or back pain. Mechanical neck or back pain is spontaneous discomfort caused by certain movements or activities.
Types of braces
Many patients who experience pain from conditions like spondylolisthesis, sciatica, ruptured discs or disc protrusions have found braces helpful in relieving pain. Braces help bear part of the mechanical load caused by gravity. Braces come in a wide selection of styles and materials, and will vary based on the level of the spine that is affected.
• Rigid back braces are braces made of plastic and can reduce the mobility of the spine by up to 50 percent. The majority of rigid back braces support the lumbosacral area, meaning they stabilize the lumbar (lower) and sacral (pelvic) regions of the spine. This brace type is usually only recommended following major lumbar surgery, such as open spinal fusion. Occasionally, rigid “collars” are used to stabilize the neck after cervical surgery.
• Soft back braces are also called “corset” braces. These braces are the most popular type because of their elasticity and light weight. These braces can take the form of short “belts” that focus on the lumbar spine, or they can be very wide, with straps that go over the shoulders, if thoracic (middle back) spine support is needed.
Combining braces with other nonsurgical treatments
You should always consult your physician for a proper diagnosis before deciding to integrate a back brace into your treatment regimen. In some cases, limiting motion of a section of the spine can actually cause an increase in problems, such as loss of flexibility, reduced circulation and stiffness. If your physician recommends so, it may be beneficial to wear a brace only in situations where further injury could occur and to remove it during controlled, low-impact exercises that can aid in spine healing. If your physician does suggest a brace, ask him or her if you should use it in conjunction with pain medication and other forms of nonsurgical treatment, such as hot and cold therapy, TENS, massage, traction, aquatic therapy, or biofeedback.