A neck brace ( or support) is an orthopedic device used to immobilize your head in order to relieve neck pain and promote healing of injured neck muscles, tendons and other structures.
In the US & Canada, probably the most frequent need for a neck support is after neck injuries received in a road accident. There are more than a million car accidents each year in North America that require treatment for whiplash. In many of these cases, a neck brace will be part of the treatment. Neck braces are also known sometimes as cervical collars or neck collars.
According to a 2008 publication of the National Institutes of Health, “neck pain is one of the most prevalent and costly health problems in the United States”. The same publication also reports that between 50% and 70% of US residents will experience neck pain at some point in their lives. Up to one third of them experience it each year and one in ten is experiencing it at any one time.
Types Of Neck Brace
Neck braces come in two forms – hard or rigid collars and soft collars. Soft cervical collars are usually made from felt, rubber or foam. In certain situations, a healthcare professional may prescribe a soft cervical collar for temporary relief of moderate neck pain. However, their effectiveness in managing more serious neck injuries is extremely limited.
Hard neck collars are usually made of more rigid materials such as hard plastic or plexiglass. These collars impose more significant restrictions on head motion such as side to side movements or rotation. Many rigid braces are also equipped with a chin support to take further pressure off the neck muscles. Healthcare professionals sometimes prescribe these braces for treatment of spinal fractures, head or neck trauma or severe neck pain.
How Are Neck Braces Used To Relieve Pain?
A neck brace’s primary function is to relieve pain. It helps injured soft tissues of the neck support the weight of the head. This gives those tissues a chance to heal.
Neck braces also have a post operative role. After you have undergone spinal neck surgery, they can keep your neck bones properly aligned during the healing process.
In addition to the above uses, a neck support can be used as a precautionary measure while your doctor evaluates what type of injuries you have experienced and how serious they may be.
Although it is widely accepted that neck braces can be effective if used temporarily to relieve pain, many medical professionals are cautious about using them for an extended period of time. Research has shown that their long term use can lead to atrophy (weakening) of the neck muscles. Other concerns relate to possible breathing obstruction, pressure on the brain and increased blood pressure due to the pressure of a neck brace on the jugular artery.
To reduce the possible impact of these problems, we would advise taking the above precautions while wearing a neck brace:
Try to avoid sitting or lying in a stationary pose as much as possible. Instead, try to walk around whenever possible. The act of walking will force your head to move around slightly and reduce the risk of atrophy of the neck muscles;
Try to maintain proper posture with the shoulders held back and the head and back straight. A posture brace for the upper back can be a useful accessory in helping you to do this;
When sitting, try to avoid using chairs with soft seats or backs. Chair height is also important – use one that is as high as is comfortable for you to sit in.
Other Questions About Neck Braces
Some questions you may have as you go about choosing your neck brace include:
Should I sleep with the brace? Our advice would be that you should wear the brace to bed unless otherwise advised by your doctor. Try to sleep on a firm mattress (or as firm as possible) and sleep on your side. If you can’t sleep on your side (because it is too uncomfortable, for instance) try sleeping on your back instead;
Should I drive while I am wearing the neck brace? You should first of all check to see whether there are any local laws that may prevent you wearing the brace. Even if there aren’t any, be aware that the brace may restrict your ability to turn your head to the side and so may affect your driving performance. If you feel that this would be a serious impediment to your ability to drive safely, you should probably avoid driving while wearing your neck brace.