Halo Brace: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

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

You can expect your neck and back to feel stiff or sore at first. This should improve as you get used to wearing the halo. You 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 you may need help getting into different positions.

Your doctor may advise you to work with a physiotherapist during your recovery. You will need to learn how to lift, twist, and bend so that you do not put too much strain on your neck and back.

During the weeks you wear a halo, you will see your doctor at regular appointments. He or she 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 neck and spine are in line.

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

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking is a gentle exercise and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation. Walking may also decrease your muscle soreness.
  • If advised by your doctor, you may need to avoid lifting anything that would cause too much strain on your neck. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • You will not be able to do any strenuous activities until your spine heals.
  • You will not be able to drive while you are wearing the halo brace.
  • Avoid riding in a car for long periods of time. If you must ride in a car for a long distance, stop often to get out and walk. You may need to learn how to safely get in and out of cars.
  • Try to change your position about every 30 minutes while sitting or standing. This will help decrease your neck and back pain while you are healing. You will need to roll your body and head as a unit when moving from a lying position to a sitting or standing position. You may need help walking until you get used to the weight of the brace.
  • Your time off from work depends on how quickly you feel better and on the type of work you do. If you work in an office, you likely can go back to work sooner than if you have a job where you are very active. Talk with your doctor about your work needs.
  • You can have sex as soon as you feel able or as your doctor tells you. Your doctor will tell you which positions to avoid so you do not put stress on your neck or back or cause pain.

Diet

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

Medicines

  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your 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 halo brace and the pin sites before you leave 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 vest will also need to be checked to make sure you do not have any skin problems under it. Make sure you know how to care for your vest before you leave the hospital.

Exercise

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

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

When should you call for help?

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

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You are unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

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

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have a headache that does not get better after you take medicine for it.
  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.
  • Your pins feel like they are loose.
  • You have blood or fluid draining from the pin sites.
  • You have 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 health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You are 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