Cervical braces are external devices used to provide support and restrict movement of the cervical spine in a variety of cervical conditions ranging from muscle spasm to severe spine instability or post-surgery. Braces are also called orthotics and are made from different materials such as nylon, rubber, molded plastic and elastic cotton. The basic function of the brace is to:
- Immobilize the spine to aid healing
- Stabilize the injured area
- Manage pain by limiting the movement
Basically, braces are of two types, soft and hard braces. Soft braces provide support to the muscles and allows free movement, while hard braces limit the movement of the neck. Based on the level of neck being supported by the brace, cervical braces can be categorized into four classes:
- Collar: it extends from the head to the upper region of the thorax
- Posture brace: it is more rigid than a collar and supports the mandibular and occipital region
- Cervicothoracic brace: this type extends further down to the trunk region
- Halo ring: it provides rigid fixation of the head
The strength of cervical bracing depends upon the type of movement being restricted (i.e. flexion, lateral bending, extension and rotation), along with consideration for the patient’s comfort and compliance such as eating or swallowing problems.
Brace specialists are referred to as orthotists and are trained in different fields such as anatomy, biomechanics, material engineering, physical science and other related fields. In some cases, braces are fitted in consultation with an orthotist based on the requirements of the treatment and condition of the patient. Your doctor may recommend the specific time-period for wearing the brace, which may range from weeks to months, depending on the condition and the type of disorder. Physical therapy may also be recommended along with braces.
Patients wearing cervical braces should avoid activities that put undue strain on the affected area such as driving. Follow the instructions of your doctor for bathing and performing other daily activities. If the patient is instructed to shower with the brace, then the brace should be cleaned appropriately following bathing.