Skip to Content

Using a Clamshell Brace to Treat Spinal Cord Injury

What is a clamshell brace?

  • A clamshell brace is a brace used to hold the thoracic (chest) part of your spine immobile. This means that the part of your spine in your chest will not move and will stay in the correct position. This allows your injured spinal column and the ligaments to heal. This brace keeps your spine from flexing (moving forward), extending (bending backward) or rotating (turning). A clamshell brace may enclose your entire torso (chest to waist), or only part of your torso. This is important because staying in bed may cause many pressure sores, blood clots, and other health problems. The clamshell brace lets you get out of bed and start moving sooner.
  • The clamshell brace fits tightly over your back, chest, and hips like having a cast on an arm or a leg. It is made up of front and back pieces of plastic that mold to your chest. The two pieces are lined with foam and are connected together with straps. There are holes in the two pieces to help keep you cool. A clamshell brace may enclose your entire torso (chest to waist), or only part of your torso.

Dos and do nots of having a clamshell brace:

  • Do: Always lie flat if the vest needs to be opened for any reason.
  • Do: Always have someone check the vest before getting out of bed.
  • Do: Always wear a tee shirt under the vest.
  • Do: Tell your caregiver if you have back pain or if you think the vest is too loose or too tight. Stay flat in bed until your medical caregivers check the vest and tighten it correctly.
  • Do not: Never open the vest unless you are lying flat.
  • Do not: Never put lotion on or under the tee shirt because this can cause skin problems.
  • Do not: Never allow anyone to adjust the vest unless they are trained to do so.

How do I care for the clamshell brace?

Taking care of your clamshell brace includes making sure the vest is on your body correctly. It also includes checking the skin under the vest.

Where can I go for support?

  • Having a spinal cord injury is life changing for you and your family. Accepting that you have a spinal cord injury is hard. You and those close to you may feel angry, sad, or frightened. These feelings are normal. Talk to your caregivers, family, or friends about your feelings. Let them help you. Encourage those close to you to talk to your caregiver about how things are at home. Your caregiver can help your family better understand how to support a person with a spinal cord injury.
  • You may want to join a support group. This is a group of people who also have spinal cord injuries. Ask your caregiver for the names and numbers of support groups in your town. You can contact one of the following national organizations for more information:
    • Paralyzed Veterans of America
      801 Eighteenth Street NW
      Washington, DC , 20006
      Phone: 1- 800 - 424-8200
      Web Address:
    • National Spinal Cord Injury Association
      6701 Democracy Blvd, Ste 300-9
      Bethesda , MD 20817
      Phone: 1- 800 - 962-9629
      Web Address:
    • American Spinal Cord Association
      2020 Peachtree Road, NW
      Atlanta, Georgia , 30309-1402
      Phone: 1- 404 - 355-9772
      Web Address:

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have back pain.
  • You have signs of a pressure sore under the vest, such as red, painful, and open areas of skin.

Seek care immediately if:

You feel the brace is too tight or too loose. Lie down flat after contacting your caregiver until your clamshell brace can be checked.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Using a Clamshell Brace to Treat Spinal Cord Injury

IBM Watson Micromedex

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.