Your doctor may prescribe a brace for you to wear after a spinal injury or surgery. It will immobilize your spine while you heal and will control pain by restricting your movement.
A medical professional will help provide you with the type of brace that is the most appropriate and comfortable for you. This will maximize your benefit from the brace and enable you to use it with few adjustments.
Types of neck braces
There are two types of neck (cervical spine) braces: soft and rigid.
A soft cervical collar is made from thick foam rubber covered in cotton. It is used to support your neck and control pain after an injury such as whiplash. Rigid braces are made from molded plastic with a removable padded liner in two pieces—a front and back piece—fastened with Velcro.
Rigid braces restrict neck movement during recovery from a fracture or surgery (e.g., fusion). Common rigid braces include the Miami J® Collar and the Vista Multi-Post.
When to wear your brace
It is important to follow your doctor’s specific instructions for when and how to wear your brace – especially when sleeping, showering, and engaging in certain activities. Learn how to wear your brace during your fitting for the brace. You will wear the brace after surgery until your spine has healed or fused, a period that can range from 4 weeks to 6 months.
If you are fitted for your brace prior to surgery, practice taking the brace on and off to increase your familiarity with it. Do not discontinue wearing the brace until your doctor has instructed you to do so.
Wipe your brace with a mild soap and damp cloth every day to clean. If your brace has padded liners, allow it to air dry or use a hair dryer on the cool setting. Do not place your brace or the pads in a clothes dryer.
Your brace will restrict your ability to move. You will not be able to see your feet, so take care when walking. Avoid steps and curbs until you are comfortable. When moving from a lying to a standing position, use your arm and leg muscles to keep your spine in proper alignment and “log” roll. Follow your physician’s or physical therapist’s instructions about exercise.
Showering / skin care
You may remove the brace to shower or sleep unless your surgeon states otherwise. Watch for reddened or irritated skin under the brace. Someone should check areas you cannot see. Skin breakdown may indicate that the brace does not fit properly.
Icing while wearing your brace
You may apply ice while wearing the brace. Place a cold pack inside a pillow case and place it over the area where you are experiencing pain. Place the brace over the top of the cold pack.
Brace weaning tips
- Start on the date recommended by your surgeon.
- Start slowly. Remove the brace for 1 hour each morning and evening. Wear the brace during the most active parts of the day.
- Add 30 to 60 brace-free minutes to each morning and evening session every day as tolerated. At this pace, it should take you 1 to 2 weeks to wean completely.
- Expect some increase in pain through the weaning process.
- Use ice as instructed.
Sources & links
If you have more questions, please contact Mayfield Brain & Spine at 800-325-7787 or 513-221-1100.
cervical: the neck portion of the spine made up of seven vertebrae.
lumbar: lower portion of the spine made up of 5 vertebrae; connects with the fused bones of the sacrum below.
orthotic: another name for a brace
orthotist: a medical professional who specializes in making custom molded braces.
sacral: the five vertebrae at the base of the spine that provide attachment for the iliac (hip) bones and protect the pelvic organs.
thoracic: the middle portion of the spine made up of 12 vertebrae.
updated > 04.2020
reviewed by > Lisa Cleveland, PT, Mayfield Clinic
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We strive to manage patients as conservatively as possible. Physical therapy strengthens back and stomach muscles. Spinal injections temporarily reduce inflammation and relieve pain. If conservative therapy is not successful, we help patients with surgery.
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