Scoliosis is an abnormality of the spine that includes a curvature to the side. It occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. Many curvatures resolve on their own, but some progress throughout the growth period and more severe cases may require a brace or even surgery to correct the problem.
We talked to Anne Ewald, whose daughter, Caroline, is a Powell patient undergoing treatment for scoliosis.
“Caroline was diagnosed in 2015, when she was going for her 10th annual checkup with the general practitioner,” Anne recalls. “When she did the typical ‘bend over and touch your toes’ test, the doctor noticed a curve and suggested we get her checked. At that time, she had a mild ‘S Curve’ with a 16-degree curve on top and a 14-degree curve on the bottom. The doctor advised us to come back in four months for a recheck.”
By early 2016, “The top curvature had increased to 21 degrees and the bottom to 16,” Anne continued. “At that point, there had been a 5-degree increase within that short time period, so a brace was prescribed. The physician suggested she start wearing a brace because of her young age and the speed of the progression of curvature.”
After a consultation with Powell, Caroline soon started wearing the Scoliosis TLSO (Thoracic-Lumbar-Sacral Orthosis), sometimes referred to as the Boston Brace. It manages the progression of scoliosis by bending the spine at specific locations. This brace is made by taking over 25 anatomical measurements and using x-rays as well as a CAD/CAM system to accurately place “unbending moments” in brace. It is then made of a flexible, yet rigid lightweight plastic.
Caroline was told that she needed to wear the TLSO brace full time, while she was both awake and asleep. “We were stunned by that,” admitted Anne. “We were thinking that at most, she’d just wear it to bed, so that part was a little shocking.”
Luckily, Anne stated that Caroline is a very even-keeled child – and very practical. “In Caroline’s head,” said Anne, “She’s getting a curve in her spine, so she needs to wear the brace – that’s that.” Anne admitted that even though Caroline wasn’t happy about it, she knew it’s what she needed to do. “It took a little getting used to,” Anne said, “probably more on my end than hers.”
Helping her stay active
Caroline is a gymnast – not exactly something you would think could be continued while wearing a rigid brace for scoliosis treatment. Anne was pleasantly surprised to learn that wasn’t the case.
“Caroline is a competitive gymnast, and we were concerned that she would not be able to continue,” said Anne. “We were so thrilled when the doctor encouraged her to continue gymnastics, and gave her permission to remove the brace during practice.” Anne said the physician explained that gymnastics improves core strength and core strength helps to support the back, and they encouraged physical activity throughout treatment.
Caroline took the treatment well. “Initially, she was wearing the brace probably 20 to 22 hours a day. She was very concerned about making sure it was helping and having it on,” Anne said. “She really adjusted to it crazy quickly.” Anne believes that Caroline’s gymnastics training helped her agility and because of that the brace didn’t inhibit her in any kind of physical activities.
The TLSO is frequently a two-piece plastic clamshell design (it may be a single piece that opens in the front or rear) that extends from the pelvis to just below the collarbones. Anne described the brace “like a hard cast that she gets in sideways, and it circles her body and in the back, there are three Velcro straps that you pull to make it tight around her, like a hard-shell corset …
“It took us awhile to get used to the change in clothing, but most people did not notice that she was wearing the brace.”
Anne said the staff a Powell was especially helpful during Caroline’s treatment. “They have definitely made a difference – by helping us become accustomed to having the back brace there, and being so super nice, friendly and helpful.” Anne mentioned Beth Martin, who designed Caroline’s brace, by saying “Any time we had a question, she was like ‘come on in, we’ll have a chat.’ She was great and still is to this day.”
Anne continued: “They were very encouraging to me, and made Caroline feel like she was normal and this was just a small bump in the road.”
Today, Caroline’s spinal top curve has diminished, but the bottom curve is still being treated. She has graduated from the TLSO brace into a Charleston Bending Brace that she wears at night. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it does its job and hoping that we’ll go back in six months and the doctor says ‘It’s better.’”
To learn more about scoliosis braces, please contact us at 804-649-9043.