When it comes right down to it, the only way to reduce a scoliosis curve (or at least stop it from progressing) without resorting to surgery is bracing. And as you can imagine, the key to success with this is for your child is to actually wear the brace—according to the healthcare provider’s instructions, that is. For many teens, this equates to living in a plastic cast for 23 hours per day.
Such a lifestyle would be challenging for pretty much anyone, let alone a tweener who is likely experiencing for the first time social pressures to fit in with peers, hormonal changes, and more. Not only that, but your child’s natural proclivity towards self-expression and movement are bound to lead to at least some resistance to brace wearing—especially when brace wearing is necessary for up to 20 to 23 hours of the day for a period of years in order to get the desired results.
Actually wearing the brace for the required amount of time is one of those things you can’t say you did, but didn’t actually do, and expect the treatment to work. You can’t fool the healthcare provider or anyone else endowed with the powers of observation. No, compliance with instructions from your prescribing health provider is the only way to truly benefit from scoliosis bracing treatment.
Even so, many children and their parents do try to fool their healthcare providers. But those who are dishonest about it, the Scoliosis Research Society reports, tend to reduce or stop the progression of their curves less than those who wear the brace as directed.
So what do you do if or when your child refuses to wear a brace? Here are five strategies that may help.
Know the Program
It’s critical that your child is aware of just how important adhering to the brace regiment is. But getting this to happen is no easy task, especially if you don’t understand all the aspects yourself. Along with learning how to put on and take off the brace and how to care for it, be sure to ask your child’s healthcare provider any and all questions about the scoliosis curve(s) that will be braced. Don’t stop until you have a complete picture. Things you might ask include:
- Is the curve single (called a “C” curve) or double (called an “S” curve)?
- Where is the curve located exactly?
- What is the Cobb angle of the curve?
- What is the Risser sign for the curve? (A Risser sign is a number like a grade that gives the degree of skeletal maturity in a scoliosis patient.)
- How snugly should the brace fit?
- How does the growth period affect curve progression and/or correction?
- What should you do if your child is uncomfortable or in pain while wearing the brace?
- How long is the initial break-in period and are there special instructions you should follow?
- How many hours per day should your child wear the brace?
- Are there positions or postures that should be avoided or encouraged?
Another thing to understand and discuss thoroughly with the healthcare provider is that successful curve correction is limited by a window of time. Once your child reaches the age of 18, wearing a brace may no longer be an effective treatment. Depending on the degree of the curve (the Cobb number), the only other option at that point may be surgery.
And finally, know that wearing a brace may well cause your child some discomfort. She may experience chaffing and/or restricted breathing, for example. Your healthcare provider is your best resource for information on how to relieve these.
Make It a Family Affair
We’re all busy—kids and parents alike. Schedules are a must, and it’s no different when it comes to consistent brace wearing. Along with a meeting to work out how the initial break-in period will go, consider holding a family pow-wow once a week or even once per day to plan, track, and/or troubleshoot the regimen.
You might engage your child by actively asking them about the brace—what they like, what they don’t like, and what would make sticking with the schedule easier. The more you understand the program, the smoother these meetings will likely go.
Another possibility is to throw a family or social event where you and your child apply art to the brace. (Ask your healthcare provider first to be sure this won’t interrupt the treatment aspect of the brace.)
As most of us know, the tween and teen years are filled with important issues like who’s hanging out with whom, popularity, looks, and the latest trends. Trying to stay current with friends and schoolmates is doubly hard when your child is also trying to hide a brace or hump under their shirt. No one wants to be ostracized, and many kids worry about what others will say or think if a classmate spots their brace.
The good news is many kids outgrow their unwillingness to let their brace be seen by peers. Some feel it’s too uncomfortable during the summer, while others, over time, simply get past the sensitivity.
Plus, these days there are organizations, websites, and peer to peer resources that help teens with scoliosis decrease the amount of isolation they may feel because of their brace. Some are designed for connection, sharing, and friendship—for example, Curvy Girls. Others strictly offer fashion advice (and of course, sell their wares). Many of the YouTube channels and websites on the topic of scoliosis fashion have been created by the teens themselves. Curvy Girls lists a large number of support groups all around the country and beyond, and they also hold a Curvy Girl convention. Curvy Girls was started by a 13-year-old girl who was diagnosed with scoliosis; it has grown into perhaps the most well-regarded support resource on the web. (You can use the site to find an in-person group, as well.)
Another great peer resource is Scoliosis Stories. If you think your teen would more positively respond to encouragement and information offered by a real-life (female) scoliosis patient, this site may be right for you. The website offers teens tips as well as tough love. You can submit your story or questions for publication.
Use a Timer
Timers are available that can be inserted into the brace. The timers use a pressure sensor to keep track of the hours and minutes the brace is supposedly worn, though some studies show problems with pressure going too low for the sensor to accurately pick up. (Therefore, kids who wore the brace but may have moved in a certain way, were recorded as not having worn the brace.)
Brace timers may be on their way in, though. Researchers are already finding the devices are useful in the study of compliance and adherence. Researchers who in 2015 studied a timer called the Cricket also suggest it may make a good tool for parents to monitor their kids.
The time in a brace as recorded by the Cricket and other timers are then divided by the number of days your child reportedly wore the brace to give the average hours per day.
Brace wearing has spawned a number of fashion businesses, as well as creativity in brace design on the part of manufacturers.
For example, according to the website OandP.com, the Boston Brace company, a well respected, long-time maker of spinal bracing options offers an array of colors and patterns in the form of transfers that can be applied to the brace.
Hope’s Closet offers an online shopping experience for girls with scoliosis. They specialize in tops with camis, tanks, and cap sleeve varieties available.
Another e-commerce site specifically for fashion-conscious girls with scoliosis is EmBraced in Comfort. This site offers items for both top and bottom that are designed for different types of braces. They have many fewer items for sale than Hope’s Closet, but one thing they do offer that Hope’s Closet does not is a tailoring service (as long as you’re a customer).
So if your child’s scoliosis treatment is the cause of discipline issues in your home, take heart. You now have five strategies that may help you gain compliance.