I’ve spent many years of my life in the Milwaukee brace. Here’s what I would say if anyone were to ask me questions about it.
What is the Milwaukee brace?
The Milwaukee brace is an orthopedic appliance used to stop the progression of Scoliosis and Kyphosis. It consists of a tough ridged, polyethylene girdle. Attached to the girdle are three adjustable upright bars. Usually, a wide one at the front and two thinner one’s at the back. The length of the bars can be adjusted using a screwdriver. The bars rise always up the body and are attached to a metal collar at the top of the brace. The collar has a chin piece and head supports. The whole brace opens up at the back. The collar being clamped locked by a thumb bolt. The Girdle being tightened up with leather straps.
How long does one have to wear the brace for?
The brace must be worn faithfully for 23 hours a day, 365 days a year until the patent stops growing or longer.
How do I get put on?
Usually, a trained guardian, nurse or care worker puts on the brace. As the brace opens up at the back, it is awkward for the patent to put on and remove without assistance. This person(s) will also usually be the “Policeman” of the brace, making sure that the patient wears it full time and complies with it.
How does one usually feel when told they are going to have to wear the brace?
Usually, a feeling of shock and horror! Usually one has seen others in the Milwaukee Brace when at the clinic. One always hopes that one’s back does not get worse and he or she will be able to escape the device. The reality of Scoliosis however, is that it does get worse and inevitably, if the Milwaukee brace is common in your clinic, you stand a very good chance of ending up in one.
How is the brace made and how long does it take?
The Milwaukee brace is made especially for each patient. A plaster cast of the patient is first made. The brace is then made around the cast. The brace usually takes two to three weeks to make but it can vary.
What should the patient do whilst waiting for the brace to be made?
Enjoy your freedom. Those weeks will pass very quickly as time out of the brace now seems like a luxury. The dreaded day will come far too soon!
What should you expect when you finally go for the brace fitting?
Nothing will prepare you for that dreaded feeling upon seeing your new Milwaukee brace for the first time. Your time has come. Your freedom to move freely has finally ended. The brace is cumbersome, unsightly and what’s worst, anyone and everyone is going to know you are wearing it. And there’s no getting away from that fact.
What does it feel like when you are in your new Milwaukee Brace for the first time?
Very different to what you expect it to feel like. The sheer awkwardness of the brace hits you like a ton of bricks. The girdle is tightened up very firmly and feels very tight wrapped around your waist. The middle of the girdle sits on the hips and holds you in very rigidly. The top and bottom edges of the girdle can sometimes feel very sharp. Your body is held in a very straight and rigid position and there is no room to move it about. You are very aware of the metal collar holding your head up in a very constraining way, stretching the spine. It is the most natural thing in the world is to want to move your head and want to look down. Your new Milwaukee won’t let you. It will ensure that you look at the roof instead.
So you are now leaving the fitting room in your new Milwaukee. What next?
The Milwaukee brace makes you very aware of it. Being stretched into a new position without being able to move about freely takes a hell of a lot of getting used to. You will tire of being in this position very quickly but your care worker or guardian will not let you out of the brace. Being strapped up in a polyethylene girdle will make your waist sweat to the point of saturation. Your tee shirt under the girdle will become soaked. This girdle will rub your hips sore and will stick into your legs when you try to raise them. The chin pad will rub your chin and make it sore and red. On the whole, the brace is very, very uncomfortable.
The things you used to take for granted will become much harder. Everything you do, the brace will make it difficult for you, Even reading a book becomes stressful because you can’t move your head and your eyeballs have to do all the work, hence they become very tired! When you go outside it gets very intimidating and annoying that wherever you go, everyone, and I mean everyone, will stare at you. Some will ask you about your brace. Some will laugh and make fun at your predicament.
Do you ever get used to the brace?
Yes, as time goes on, some things do become easier. But the jealousy of wanting to be free of the restraint the Milwaukee imposes never goes away.
Do you get frustrated?
Yes. Especially when you think your care worker is flaunting freely in front of you and that you think she is an unfeeling, demanding, wicked bitch for not letting you out of it. When you have been out of the brace for an hour, you can’t help feeling some hatred for the bitch that is going to put you back in it.