Your typical cervical collar does not provide much support for the cervical spine. It acts more as a reminder that there’s a neck issue to limit the range of motion of the neck and acts to keep the neck warm and the muscles warm. Cervical collars, if used for minor neck pain, muscle pain, and cervical strain, should be used only on a short-term basis, if they’re used at all. It can actually worsen a stiff neck. The reason for this is by simply putting on a cervical collar, you’re telling yourself, you’re telling your brain, “don’t move the neck,” but truly with most minor injuries to the neck, with a cervical strain for example, you want to encourage neck motion and by putting on a cervical collar, you are actually limiting the motion. So, if you are going to use it, it should be on a short term basis – maybe for the first few hours or days – and intermittently. It should not be used constantly throughout the day. If you are using a cervical collar to protect the neck to decrease range of motion, this is something you probably would have discussed with your healthcare practitioner and there are specific collars which limit the range of motion in the neck are more stabilizing. These would be used, for example, in the case of a fracture in the neck, but you wouldn’t use a simple, straightforward cervical collar for this because it really wouldn’t provide much support. For minor injuries to the neck, for cervical strain, for home care use, these cervical collars should be used on a limited basis for comfort, but not for an extended period of time, which can make the neck pain actually worse and more stiff over time.

Oftentimes after surgical procedures, on the other hand, a physician may recommend a cervical collar to be used for a certain duration of time, and this is again more to protect the spine as a reminder, an aesthetic reminder, that you shouldn’t really be moving the neck too much, perhaps after a disc operation or some procedure for the spine. In this case, you need to heed your practitioner’s advice and it could be used often times for a slightly longer period of time.

Dr. Marco Funiciello is a physiatrist with Princeton Spine and Joint Center. He has a decade of clinical experience caring for spine and muscle conditions with non-surgical treatments.