A cervical brace is a medical product your doctor prescribes to reduce neck movement, add support, or to keep your neck in a fixed position. The type of brace your doctor recommends is based on your diagnosis. Sometimes a cervical brace is part of a patient’s non-surgical treatment plan. In other cases, it is necessary to wear a cervical brace after spine surgery until your neck heals. A brace prescription includes how and when to wear the brace, as well as the number of hours per day, and length of treatment, such as a few weeks or months.
Cervical braces are made from different types of material; pre-fabricated mold, designed using foam, padding, plastic, elastic, metal, and/or woven materials. There are many types of braces that fall into one of three categories:
- Soft cervical braces or collars are usually made of dense foam with a moisture-wicking outer cover and Velcro closure.
- Hard neck braces are made from stiff materials and often come with separate front and back pieces. This type of brace may be prescribed for someone with spinal instability.
- Rigid braces align your neck with the rest of your spinal column and restrict head or neck movement. Two types are a (1) sterno-occiptal mandibular immobilization device (SOMI) or (2) cervical halo.
- A SOMI cups your chin and connects to a lightweight upper body brace to support the head and neck.
- If you break your neck, or after complex cervical spine surgery, a halo may be affixed. The halo’s ring-like headband is secured to the skull with metal pins. The halo is connected to a sturdy vest worn about the chest.
Either type of rigid cervical fixation product may be used to treat a serious neck injury when head and neck movement (i.e., bending, twisting) could be detrimental.
Orthotist: a brace specialist
An Orthotist is a brace specialist trained in anatomy, biomechanics, physical science, materials engineering, and related fields. Some types of braces require an Orthotist to fit the brace. Under your doctor’s guidance, the Orthotist fine tunes the fit and comfort so you meet the goals of treatment.
Your treatment plan may involve wearing the brace all the time for a certain number of weeks or months. To benefit fully from brace treatment, it is important to follow your doctor’s prescribed plan. Brace treatment may include physical therapy.
Are over-the-counter cervical braces safe to use?
If you think you need a brace, first talk to your doctor. While there are many cervical braces available without a prescription, it is important your doctor knows why you are using a brace and how often you wear it.
A brace can help support your neck and ease pain, but prolonged use (without your doctor’s recommendation) may lead to muscle weakness.
Learn more about spinal braces from these online sources: