The first mention of scoliosis was in the 5th century BC. Although thousands of years have passed since its first diagnosis (quite literally), its cause remains largely unknown. Still, the condition accounts for over 20% of all spinal deformity cases in the US, and finding an effective treatment is critical.
So far, only three types of treatments have proven to be relatively effective:
Bracing is the preferred choice, especially among younger patients, as it can prevent further degeneration of the spine. Many adults wear braces as well, although their reasons might differ.
Let’s take a look at why adults would need scoliosis braces and see which braces are the most commonly used.
Bracing as a Treatment for Adult Scoliosis
Children and young adults wear scoliosis braces to slow the progression of their condition. Since their spines haven’t stopped growing yet, they’re more flexible, and the bracing can be more effective. In most cases, children start wearing braces around the age of 11 and stop after turning 17 or 18.
When it comes to the adults, on the other hand, bracing won’t succeed in improving their condition. Once the spine has stopped growing (around the age of 18), it becomes stiffer, and the scoliosis brace won’t be as effective then.
Scoliosis brace for adults mainly serves the purpose of alleviating pain. It offers greater support to the back and can restrict motion so that there’s less pressure on the spine. That acts as a pain reliever and can even reduce the need for pain medication.
The second reason why many adults with scoliosis opt for a brace is that it can improve their appearance. Scoliosis can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and body image. Bracing can help improve posture, at least temporarily, and improve the patient’s self-esteem.
It should be noted that bracing is not a cure for scoliosis. It can prevent further spinal degeneration, and it can relieve pain, but it will not cure the condition. As of yet, there is no cure for scoliosis in the traditional sense. Surgery can be effective, but the condition may return. Long-term commitment to bracing and exercising is often the best solution.
Scoliosis Braces for Adults
There are quite a few different types of scoliosis braces for adults. Most of them can be divided into two broad categories:
CTLSO, or cervical-thoracic-lumbar-sacral orthosis, is used in more extreme cases of scoliosis, or after spinal surgery. It’s used for treating curvatures in the upper back region. It has a metal structure that goes all the way up to the neck.
These braces tend to be uncomfortable and impossible to hide under clothing.
TLSO, or thoracic-lumbar-sacral orthosis, is used for treating the mid and lower back regions. It can be easily hidden underneath the clothing, and it features no uncomfortable metal structures. TLSO is the more common type of bracing that we’ll dive into further.
1. Boston Brace
Boston brace (TLSO) is the most popular choice for adults with scoliosis. It’s made of very rigid, yet very light plastic that supports the ribs, lower back, and hips. It’s virtually invisible under the clothing.
Usually, it covers the entire torso of the patient, going from the hips up to the armpits. Since it’s made of such durable material, it needs to be customized to suit the specific patient who’ll be wearing it. It should provide support and perfectly fit the curvature of your spine.
Boston brace can be worn up to 23 hours a day. However, it’s best to consult with your doctor before wearing it this long.
2. Wilmington Brace
Wilmington brace is almost identical to the Boston brace. It’s made of the same material, almost entirely unnoticeable under the clothing, and is customized for each patient. A plaster mold of the torso needs to be made for the brace to be designed for your specific condition.
The only difference between the Wilmington brace and the Boston brace is where they close. Boston brace closes in the back, so patients often need help putting it on. Wilmington brace closes in the front, so it’s much easier to put on.
3. Milwaukee Brace
The Milwaukee brace is more bulky and uncomfortable. It falls in the category of CTLSO braces and features a metal frame. It needs to be worn over the clothing, so there’s no way of hiding it.
It’s not used as often as the Boston or Wilmington braces, and it’s only recommended in the more extreme cases. Adults with scoliosis generally stay away from this brace unless necessary.
Milwaukee brace can be worn up to 23 hours a day. However, since it’s large and uncomfortable, few will decide to sleep in it.
4. Charleston Bending Brace
Charleston bending brace is designed as an overnight brace. It’s recommended only for specific conditions, and should never be worn without consulting a doctor.
It’s a much stronger brace that applies quite a bit of force on your spine. It can only be worn for up to 10 hours at most while you’re sleeping.
5. Flexible vs. Rigid Bracing
Rigid bracing is often recommended for younger patients. It’s easier to hide, so most adolescents with scoliosis prefer it.
It exerts more force on the spine and can be more effective at preventing further progression of the condition.
Adults with moderate spinal degeneration prefer flexible bracing. It offers greater freedom of movement while still providing the necessary support. It can help to promote better posture and alleviate pain during exercising.
Flexible bracing is often more affordable. How much a scoliosis brace would cost depends on the materials, the severity of the condition, and the clinic. The price can go from a few hundred dollars, up to well over $10,000.
The Bottom Line
Scoliosis bracing for adults will not prevent further degeneration of the spine but can improve your quality of life. It will promote better posture and act as a pain reliever in some cases.
Always consult with your doctor before buying an adult scoliosis brace. Your doctor will let you know whether you need it and which type will suit you best.
Bracing often works best when paired with exercise, so ask your doctor about exercises you can do with your scoliosis brace.