Halo Brace in Children: What to Expect at Home

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Your Child's Recovery

Your child's halo brace is keeping the neck and spine from moving while your child's spine heals. Your child will wear the halo brace all the time. The ring (or halo) around your child's head is held in place by four screws (or pins) in the skull. The ring is attached by four bars to a stiff, lightweight vest that fits around your child's chest. This keeps the neck and spine moving as one with the body so the spinal injury can heal. Most people wear a halo for 6 to 12 weeks.

You can expect your child's neck and back to feel stiff or sore at first. This should improve as your child gets used to wearing the halo. Your child may have some pain at the pin sites in the first few days. It may be hard to sit or stand in one position for very long, and your child may need help getting into different positions.

Your doctor may advise you to have your child work with a physiotherapist during recovery. Your child will need to learn how to lift, twist, and bend so that he or she does not put too much strain on the neck and back.

During the weeks your child wears a halo, he or she will see the doctor at regular appointments. The doctor will check the position of the halo brace and tighten the pins or vest as needed. X-rays may be taken at these appointments to make sure your child's neck and spine are in line.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for your child at home?

Activity

  • Make sure your child rests when he or she feels tired. Getting enough sleep will help in recovery.
  • Have your child try to walk each day. Bit by bit, increase the amount your child walks each day. Walking is a gentle exercise and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation. Walking may also decrease muscle soreness.
  • If advised by your doctor, your child may need to avoid lifting anything that would cause too much strain on the neck. This may include heavy toys or a heavy backpack.
  • Your child will not be able to do any strenuous activities until the spine heals.
  • Avoid letting your child ride in a car for long periods of time. If he or she must ride in a car for a long distance, stop often to get out and walk. Your child may need to learn how to safely get in and out of cars.
  • Have your child try to change position about every 30 minutes while sitting or standing. This will help decrease neck and back pain while your child is healing. Your child will need to roll his or her body and head as a unit when moving from a lying position to a sitting or standing position. Your child may need help walking until he or she gets used to the weight of the brace.

Diet

  • Your child can eat a normal diet. If his or her stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your child's bowel movements are not regular right after surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to give your child a fibre supplement every day. If your child has not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, give him or her a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you think the pain medicine is making your child sick to his or her stomach:
    • Give the medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.

Pin site care

  • Gently rinse the pin sites daily with warm, soapy water and pat them dry. Make sure you understand how to care for your child's halo brace, the pin sites, and the vest before your child leaves the hospital.
  • Keep the pin sites clean and dry. You may cover them with a gauze bandage if they weep. Change the bandages every day.
  • Your child's vest will also need to be checked to make sure your child does not have any skin problems under it.

Exercise

  • Have your child do exercises as instructed by your doctor.
  • Your doctor may recommend that your child work with a physiotherapist to improve the strength and flexibility of the neck and back.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or he or she coughs up blood.
  • Your child is unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has pain that does not get better after he or she takes pain medicine.
  • Your child has a headache that does not get better after he or she takes medicine for it.
  • Your child has new or worse symptoms in his or her arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • Your child loses bladder or bowel control.
  • Your child's pins feel like they are loose.
  • Your child has blood or fluid draining from the pin sites.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the pin sites.
    • Pus draining from the pin sites.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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Current as of: February 19, 2016