Skip to main content

Why Do I Need Halo Traction and What Is It?

Halo traction helps slowly stretch the spine into a straighter position before a spine surgery, such as a spinal fusion.

The stretching happens by attaching a halo to a pulley system.

A halo is a circular, metal ring that surrounds the head. Small pins are used to secure the halo in place.

The halo is then attached to a pulley system where circular weights are added over time to gently pull the head and spine upward. The pulling is called traction. During halo traction, kids stay in the hospital for several weeks until the spine surgery takes place.



How Is The Halo Put On?

The surgeon puts the halo on during surgery under anesthesia. Anesthesia is a special medicine that helps kids sleep during the surgery. The halo is attached to the head with 6 - 8 smalls pins. The small pins are placed about 1 millimeter (that is about as thin as a credit card) into the outer skull bone.



The surgery takes 20 - 30 minutes to complete. However, the whole process from falling asleep with anesthesia, surgery, and waking up from anesthesia may take up to 1 ½ hours.


How Long Will I Have To Be In Halo Traction?

On average, kids will spend about 4 - 6 weeks in halo traction. The surgeon will help determine the length of stay based on the spine and curve. Kids will stay overnight in the hospital the whole time while they are in halo traction.


Will I Be Able To Move Around And Do Activites?

Absolutely! Healthcare providers encourage kids to get up and move around so gravity can help stretch the spine while in halo traction. It will enhance the benefits of traction. Kids will be able to move around the hospital, sleep, shower, and go to the bathroom using special equipment (traction bed, wheelchair, stander) to keep the weights attached while moving around.



During the hospital stay, there are several medical cares that will become routine. These medical cares will include small weights added daily until the weight goal is reached, daily nerve checks to check movement and strength, daily pin cleaning to prevent skin infections at the pin sites, and weekly x-rays to check spine progress.

A child life specialist will work with kids and families to help create a visual schedule to become familiar with the new hospital routine such as medical cares, activities, school, showering, etc.


Who Will Be On My Hospital Care Team?

Gillette Children's uses a team approach to meet kids' and families' specific needs throughout their hospitalization.

The hospital care team can include:

  • Orthopedic surgeon (bone doctor)
  • Physician assistant and nurse practitioner (staff that have special training to help the doctor with medical care)
  • Bedside nurse and nursing assistant (provides hands-on care)
  • Child life specialist (provides support, preparation, and activities during the hospital stay)

More hospital care team members may be involved based different needs. For example, physical therapy to help with strength or respiratory therapy to help with breathing.


Does Halo Traction Hurt?

Kids may have some pain and discomfort around the pin sites or a headache for the first few days after the halo is placed. However, kids get used to halo traction during their hospitalization and quickly adapt. Medicine can be given to help relax muscles and control pain.

Overtime kids may actually feel more comfortable than before the halo was placed because they may be able to breathe easier, have an increased appetite, and stand or sit straighter.


Will I Be Able To Remove The Halo Or Come Out Of Traction?

No, kids will not be able to remove the halo or come out of traction during their hospitalization. The halo must remain on at all times and be attached to the pulley system with weights.


How Will I Sleep In My Halo?

Kids will sleep in a special traction bed. It may take some time to adjust to sleeping in a halo, however kids get used to it overtime. Rolled-up towels or a small pillow can help kids sleep more comfortably. Sleeping on the back, side or stomach is okay.


Will I Be Able To Shower Or Bathe With My Halo?

Yes, kids will be able to shower or sponge bathe while in halo traction. A shower or bathing schedule will be created so bedside nurses or nursing assistants will be available to help. The hospital unit will provide shampoo that is gentle and safe to use with the metal halo. After each hair wash, pin cares will be done.


What Happens After Halo Traction?

Once kids reach their halo traction weight goal and specific curve degree shown on weekly x-rays, it is time for the halo to be removed and spine surgery to take place. Kids will stay in the hospital overnight after spine surgery for a few more days.

After the halo is removed, kids may have to temporarily wear a neck brace to help with comfort and support. The doctor and nurse will go over medications, home cares, and physical restrictions before kids leave the hospital to go home.


Will The Halo Leave Scars When It Is Removed?

Once the halo is removed, the area where the pins were attached will scab over in a few days. Kids will have small scars on their forehead once the scabs fall off, but they will fade and become less noticeable as time goes on.


Activities in the Hospital

Gillette offers holistic and wellness modalities that are available while inpatient. Some of these include aromatherapy, clinical hypnosis, hand massage, healing touch, pain psychology, and spiritual care.

  • Child Life: Child life specialists are available to provide therapeutic play, medical play, and developmental play sessions
  • Gateway Plaza Play Area and Garden: Open Monday - Friday 8 am - dark, weekends 8 am - dark. Inpatient badges allow access to the play area and garden
  • Group Evening Activity: Child life specialists facilitate week day evening activities that inpatients and families can attend Monday - Thursday 6 pm - 7 pm. Activity calendars are located outside patient rooms
  • Music Therapy: Music therapy is available Wednesday and Friday 8 am - 4:30 pm to promote positive coping
  • Pet Therapy: Patients can be added to the pet therapy priority list to spend time with a furry friend
  • Volunteers: Patients can be added to the volunteer playdate priority list to engage in play, crafts and games

Halo Traction - Videos

This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your health care providers. If you have any questions, talk with your doctor or others on your health care team. If you are a Gillette patient with urgent questions or concerns, please contact Telehealth Nursing at 651-229-3890.