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What Is Halo-Gravity Traction?

Halo-gravity traction is a technique used to correct severe spine deformities such as scoliosis and kyphosis by gently stretching and straightening the compressed or curved spine. While children are in traction for approximately 3 to 8 weeks, they remain in the hospital.

Usually, children go on to have spinal fusion surgery following a course of halo traction to permanently stabilize the spine by joining (fusing) two or more vertebrae together.

The purpose of halo-gravity traction is to safely obtain some correction of the spinal curvature and to reduce the risk of damaging any nerves or surrounding tissues that might occur during spine surgery. Although halo-gravity traction is not a replacement for surgical correction, it does help to correct spine curvatures and deformities with a less invasive technique before the more definitive surgery.

What to Expect During Halo-Gravity Traction

Halo-gravity traction begins with a procedure done while a child is under general anesthesia. The system is designed to gently and slowly pull and stretch the head and spine. Your child’s doctor will do this by attaching a metal ring surrounding the head, or “halo,” to a pulley system that will slowly pull the head and spine in opposing directions. The lightweight metal ring (halo) is attached to the child’s skull with several small pins. These pins are inserted into the bone of the forehead to prevent movement of the child’s head.

The pulley system has weights attached to the halo which slowly and gradually pulls the head and spine in opposing directions.

Over the course of a few weeks, more weight will be carefully added to continue straightening the child’s curved or compressed spine. To ensure progress is on target, your child’s doctor will continuously monitor their movements and strength by taking X-rays throughout the weeks before surgery. Based on the X-rays, the doctor will decide whether to increase or decrease the amount of weight in the pulley system. Once the doctor sees that the spine has reached its optimal position, the child will prepare for the next step in correcting their spinal deformity: spinal fusion surgery.

What to Expect After Halo-Gravity Traction

Once the child completes halo traction and spinal fusion surgery, they must avoid high-impact activities and sports for several months so the spine heals and their muscles strengthen. They may have to wear a halo vestduring recovery, which is a brace holding the child’s head completely still after surgery. As their neck strengthens, the halo vest will no longer be necessary and will sometimes be replaced with a brace. The child’s surgeon will continue to monitor the child’s recovery closely to decide how long the halo vest will be necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions About Halo-Gravity Traction

Does halo-gravity traction hurt?

Children may experience some discomfort such as headache or tenderness/soreness where the pins are located, but this usually subsides a few days after the halo is placed. Most children adapt quickly to halo-gravity traction, because stretching and lengthening the spine often relieve the symptoms caused by their spinal deformity, and they feel much more comfortable over time because they can breathe and eat more comfortably and are better able to stand upright.

Where is halo-gravity traction performed?

Children remain in the hospital for their entire course of halo-gravity traction so clinicians are able to carefully and continuously monitor their progress and adjust the weight of the pulley system as needed. To help the child feel more comfortable, parents are encouraged to plan ahead to stay at the hospital. They can help their child adjust to the unfamiliar hospital setting by decorating the child’s room, bringing their favorite stuffed animals, and helping their child feel calm and soothed. We have an excellent team of Child Life specialists in our hospital.

Can my child come out of traction?

During showers, repositioning, toileting, or changing clothes, children will be out of the traction system for brief periods of time.

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