Braces may provide an effective treatment option for children with scoliosis–specifically those who have not yet reached skeletal maturity and have relatively small curves that have nonetheless demonstrated progression. Outfitting a still-growing child with a custom-fitted brace can curtail the progression of the curve. To ensure its effectiveness, the child should regularly visit a back specialist who will use a non-invasive method of measurement called a scoliometer to monitor the size and any progression of the scoliotic curve.
The number of hours a day that a child must wear a brace depends on the clinical situation. Some children need “full-time” bracing, which means wearing it 24 hours a day until the body has reached skeletal maturity. Because braces limit movement, your doctor may allow your child to remove it for sports or other activities. Even with this exception, however, “full-time” bracing means that your child needs to wears it at least 18 hours a day. Some new braces can be worn only at night, yet may provide the same benefit as one that is worn all day and night. Your doctor will take into account the severity of the condition and your child’s age and lifestyle to help you reach the best decision about what type of brace is most appropriate.
When considering a brace as a treatment option for scoliosis, it is important for you and your child to consider the viability of this option. Braces should not preclude your child from participating in any daily routines, except for certain high-impact athletic activities. However, you should discuss with your child his or her commitment to wearing the brace every day for an extended period of time. Some children are reluctant to comply because they feel self-conscious among their peers. Yet wearing a brace only part of the time prescribed may negate the effectiveness of the treatment.
While braces cannot “correct” a curve, they can stop its progression until bone maturity. For this treatment to be successful, however, it is extremely important that your child wear the brace as directed by the child’s doctor. Braces are often most effective when a patient simultaneously undergoes physical therapy. (The child should remove the brace before doing any exercises or other physical therapy.) A physical therapist guides the patient in a therapeutic routine that ensures that the muscles around the back, trunk, and abdomen remain strong during the time a brace is worn.