Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi
If you’re a movie buff or a sports fan, maybe you’ve seen the new movie “Bleed For This,” which documents the amazing journey of Vinny Pazienza to return to the boxing ring after suffering a devastating spinal injury. We won’t spoil the movie, but if you’ve seen the trailer or are familiar with Vinny’s story, you know that he was involved in a car accident that jeopardized his boxing career. Pazienza suffered a fractured cervical vertebrae in the accident and recovered with the assistance of a halo. Today, we explain how this clunky looking device can actually help protect and stabilize your spine.
What’s a Spinal Halo?
A spinal halo is a large ring-shaped brace attached by four posts that encircles a patient’s spine. But it doesn’t just outwardly support the head and neck – the halo fixation device is actually screwed into the patient’s skull for maximum stability and immobilization.
The reason the device is necessary is because it’s impossible to achieve such results with a standard cast or a brace. Most braces restrict neck motion beyond approximately 40 percent, but a halo can prevent up to 90 percent of a patient’s neck movement, which is perfect when immobilization is instrumental in recovery. In some cases, a shift in the vertebrae in the neck of just a couple of millimeters can result in paralysis, so the more immobilization of the area, the better.
Screwed Into The Skull
To ensure immobilization, titanium cranial pills are usually screwed into the patient’s skull. With the assistance of a numbing agent, a surgeon will drill four small holes in your skull to insert stabilizing pins and screws. Pins may need to be tightened after a couple of weeks, and although surgeons do their best to reduce infection likelihood, about 1 in 6 patients will deal with a screw-site infection.
The device forces the patient’s head, neck and spine to move as one whole unit, which severely limits a patient’s ability to move fluidly. Patients are required to sleep on their backs and drink through a straw, but when you consider the alternative is potential paralysis, being uncomfortable for a couple months doesn’t sound all that bad.
Since your neck muscles aren’t working as hard as normal when wearing the halo, many patients suffer atrophy in the muscles that support their head. Physical therapy and bracing techniques can help patients re-strengthen these muscles as they work to complete their recovery. Hopefully you’ll never need one of these devices, but it’s nice to know that medical science has found a way to immobilize the spine to such an extent if need be!