18 May 2009 03:26 pm

What About Cervical Collars?

cervical collar dog

Buddy here looks like he’s planning on bilking the insurance company out of some major coin.


I’m sure it comes as no surprise that every once in awhile someone will write to me and ask about those cervical collars you occasionally see people wearing. For example, here’s a letter I received about a month ago…

Hi Dean,

I’m 37 and a working Mom. I slipped and fell at home about a week ago and I’ve had this awful neck pain ever since. It’s worse first thing in the morning, gets better by mid-day, but by the end of the day it’s hurting again. My doctor said there was nothing seriously wrong and prescribed Motrin for the pain but I’ve been wondering if I should go back and ask him about one of those collars to support my neck while it heals. I don’t really want to wear one of those things, but maybe that would help my neck heal faster?

What do you think? Any advice would be appreciated.


My response…

Hi Sandy,

There was a time when cervical collars were considered a viable option for treating neck pain. And there was a certain logic behind the practice.

After all, it made sense to try and protect the injured tissue and give it a chance to heal. The goal was to prevent repetitive injury, which would ultimately delay your recovery.


However, these days most doctors don’t prescribe cervical collars for minor neck injuries. They’ve found that it actually slows recovery time and weakens the neck if the collar is worn for any length of time.

Here’s what the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has to say on the subject…

“In the past, whiplash injuries were often treated with immobilization in a cervical collar. However, the current trend is to encourage early movement, rather than immobilization. The soft collar may be used for a short term and on an intermittent basis.” [1]

The basis for this position can be found in the current research, which indicates that a certain amount of movement actually helps the injury heal faster…

“Research has shown that whiplash patients who rest for several weeks and wear a soft collar actually recover more slowly than those who try to follow a normal routine.” [2]

“In the past, some people have worn a neck collar for long periods after a whiplash sprain, and have been reluctant to move their neck. Studies have shown that you are more likely to make a quicker recovery if you do regular neck exercises, and keep your neck active rather than resting it for long periods in a collar.” [3]

And here are a couple more quotes along the same lines…

“Mealy and associates, in a prospective randomized trial comparing use of a soft cervical collar and analgesic medications with a regimen of active therapy, found that the group treated actively had significant improvement in both neck pain and mobility compared with the group treated with a soft collar.” [4]

“In a third prospective randomized study… Patients encouraged to remain at their normal level of activity had a better outcome than patients treated with immobilization and time off from work.” [4]

So there you have it.


I think the only time cervical collars are used for minor neck injuries is if you need support at night when you’re sleeping. Since you are waking up with neck pain, your doctor may decide that support at night might be helpful in your case.

However, I suspect that he will not want you to wear it during the day. (Even if you are trying to set a new fashion trend.)

As always, be sure to check with your doctor first before acting on your own.

Take care,


1. Whiplash. Your Orthopedic Connection. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. [Oct 2000]

2. Kasch H. Whiplash: What causes Whiplash? netdoctor.co.uk [Jan 2005]

3. Whiplash Neck Sprain. Patient UK. patient.uk.co [April 2005]

4. Young WF. The enigma of whiplash injury. Current management strategies and controversies. Postgrad Med Vol 109, No 3:179-86 [Mar 2001]


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