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What is a Cervical Collar?

By Mary Beth Adomaitis
Updated Feb 13, 2024
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The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae that support the brain and skull. It protects various nerves in the upper part of the body, such as the face, neck, throat, arms and hands. A cervical collar, also known as a neck brace or C-collar, is used to support this cervical portion of the head and spinal cord. It limits the neck and spine's movements and allows an injury to heal, and may help prevent one from occurring as well.

Neck braces are typically used in emergency situations and for short-term therapy. When a traumatic head or neck injury occurs, the danger of spinal cord damage is a concern. A cervical collar is normally put in place during an emergency to prevent this from happening. Collars are also sometimes used to treat bouts of neck pain, such as whiplash, and to realign one's spinal cord.

There are four basic types of cervical collars: soft foam, gel-filled hot or cold packs, foam immobilization and a Sternal Occipital Mandibular Immobilizer (SOMI) brace. They fit securely around the neck and upper body, typically with Velcro or other simple straps. They come in various sizes and are generally easily laundered. Neck braces are normally made to be worn at all times, including when asleep.

A soft foam collar can help alleviate muscle tension or pain from minor cervical injuries. This is the most common type of cervical collar, as well as the most economical. A soft foam collar provides a limited range of neck motion because it fits only around the neck.

For minor neck injuries such as stiffness or inflammation, a gel-filled hot or cold pack collar is often used. Similar to a soft foam collar, the pack in this cervical collar is frozen or heated, placed inside of knit or nylon sleeve and secured around the neck. These types tend to be less cumbersome than typical heating pads and ice packs.

A foam immobilization collar, also known as a Philadelphia cervical collar, is typically used to help strengthen the neck after a soft-tissue injury, such as a neck sprain or whiplash. The dense foam plastic collar rests on the upper shoulders and often comes with an adjustable neck height. It allows the chin to rest comfortably, and most come with an opening for a tracheotomy.

A SOMI brace is normally fitted to the upper body to restrict head, neck, joint and spine movement. This type of collar is commonly used to treat cervical fractures, spinal cord injuries and serious head and neck traumas. It is typically fitted while in the hospital and is usually worn at all times, even while bathing or dressing.

Most cervical collars are neutral in color, typically white, black or tan. Soft foam or gel-filled pack collars are commonly sold at pharmacies or retail stores. A doctor's prescription is usually needed for other cervical collars as they are specifically fitted to each individual.

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