If you require cervical spine surgery, or if you've experienced trauma or injury to your neck, you may need to wear a neck brace. Neck braces are among the most common of all spinal braces (which your doctor may call orthoses or orthotics). There are many kinds of neck braces, and the most common ones are outlined below. If you'd like to read a general article that describes all the types of spinal braces, please read our spinal bracing overview.
Neck braces, which are also called collars, serve a variety of purposes. They can stabilize your neck after cervical spine surgery, or they can provide non-surgical relief if you've experienced trauma or injury to your neck (from whiplash, for instance).
This article will cover the most commonly prescribed neck braces:
Soft and Hard Collars
Soft collars are flexible and made of polyurethane foam rubber. These collars are easily wrapped around the neck and secured with Velcro. Soft collars are usually worn after wearing a more rigid collar, so most of the healing will be complete by the time you begin wearing a soft collar. The main purpose of a soft collar is to help you gradually transition to not wearing a brace.
Hard collars look similar to soft collars, but they are made of a hard polyethylene material. These collars may provide support and pain relief for a variety of spinal conditions, including cervical spondylosis and acute neck pain.
A Philadelphia collar is a stiff foam collar composed of 2 pieces that are attached on the sides with Velcro.
The upper portion of the Philadelphia collar supports the lower jaw and the brace extends down to cover the upper thoracic spine. This collar covers more area than a soft or hard collar, so it puts greater restrictions on your range of motion.
Because it's so effective at limiting movement, the Philadelphia collar is often prescribed after cervical spine surgery to promote a healthy recovery. It's also commonly used to stabilize minor cervical spinal fractures and reduce pain associated with muscle strain in the neck.
A sterno-occipital-mandibular immobilization device (SOMI) is a rigid cervical brace that positions your neck in straight alignment with your spine. This brace supports your neck by preventing your head and neck from moving. This level of immobility will allow the damaged structures in your neck to heal faster.
The name of this brace gives an indication of its structure. Sterno comes from sternum, which is in your chest. This rigid brace has a front chest plate, along with bars that go over the shoulder. The brace is secured with straps on the bars that attach to opposite sides of the front chest plate. There are no bars that go along your back. The SOMI brace also has a removable chin piece (mandibular comes from mandible, which is your lower jawbone) and optional headpiece for added support (occipital refers to the occipital bone at the back of your head).
The SOMI brace may be used as a treatment for a severe neck injury or for cervical pain caused by a chronic condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis. It may also be prescribed as a recovery aid after cervical spine surgery.
A halo device is the most rigid of all neck braces. It prevents the head and neck from moving, and it may be necessary to immobilize the spine after a major cervical spine procedure or to stabilize fractures in the cervical and/or thoracic regions.
Halo bracing is a form of spinal traction. Traction essentially pulls your spine in two different directions. This tension helps reduce the abnormal curvature associated with some spinal conditions, including scoliosis.
A halo brace features a metal ring that is secured to your head using metal pins. The ring is then connected to 4 bars that are attached to a heavy vest (the weights of halo vests vary). You will wear the halo brace at all times until you are healed.
If you'd like to learn more, please read our article about halo bracing.
Like all spinal braces, neck braces are most effective when you use them as directed by your doctor. You will also work with an orthotist, a specialist who designs and custom fits spinal braces. If you have any questions about how to wear and care for your brace, don't hesitate to ask your doctor or orthotist. He or she is there to ensure that you understand how to get the most benefit from your treatment.