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What Is The Cervical Spine

We call the bony area of your neck the cervical spine. Your cervical spine and backbone surround and protect your spinal cord. If the cervical spine or its surrounding tissues are damaged or strained, you might harm your spinal cord. A cervical spine injury may cause your neck bones to move abnormally and expose your spinal cord to injury. 

The spinal cord and spinal nerves contain the pathways that connect the brain and the rest of the body. These pathways allow us to control how we move and feel. Ligaments are the soft, fibrous tissues that connect bones to each other. Spinal ligaments and fluid also help protect your spinal cord. 

A strain of your cervical ligaments causes pain along your spine. It can also occasionally be associated with tingling or numbness in your arms or hands.  


How Do You Treat A Cervical Spine Ligamentous Injury?

We treat your cervical spine injury by giving the strained ligaments a rest with a special neck brace (cervical collar) until your pain goes away. The strain can take a few days or up to several weeks to fully heal. Resting your cervical ligaments with the cervical collar will help the injury heal fully and as quickly as possible. After the pain goes away, your provider will examine your neck again and take a new type of X-ray image called flexion/extension. Then, your provider will discuss how to gradually stop wearing the collar until your neck ligaments and muscles are strong enough on their own. 


What Is A Cervical Collar?

A neck brace is called a cervical collar. A cervical collar helps hold your head up and keeps it still to give your cervical spine a rest while it heals. The type of cervical collar you will wear will depend upon how much support your neck needs. A common collar fit at Gillette is a Miami J collar. You must wear your collar 24 hours a day except when bathing or changing clothes, unless otherwise directed. Your provider or orthotist will make sure the collar is the appropriate fit for your body.  

A correctly fit cervical collar will be snug around your neck and will not rub against your ears. You should not be able to tuck your chin inside the collar. You should be able to open your mouth to eat food while wearing the collar. You will not be able to look down at your toes or up at the ceiling in the collar. If you need to look to the side, you will need to turn your chest and shoulders along with your head. 


How Do I Put On The Collar?

An adolescent or teenager may be able to put the collar on easily by themselves. Younger children will need assistance. You should fit the front piece of the collar under your chin and then wrap the sides around your neck. Then place the back piece around your neck and secure it with the Velcro strap. Your provider will mark the Velcro straps so that you know how tight the collar should be. 


How Do I Care For My Skin?

Your provider may allow you to remove the collar for a short period of time once a day in order to clean your skin and inspect the collar. It is safe to do this as long as you are sitting or standing in one place and you take special care that you do not move your head and neck around with the collar off. 

Avoid using lotions, creams and oils on the skin under your brace. Keep your skin clean and dry in order to reduce skin irritation and bacterial growth. Some people wear crew neck T-shirts or shirts with high collars that go under the bottom edge of the collar in order to protect their skin. 


How Do I Care For My Collar?

If your collar has removable pads, you will be given an extra set so that while one set is being washed, you can still wear the collar. When you take your collar off, inspect the pads. If they are soiled and stained, replace them with the extra set and wash as directed. If your collar does not have removable pads, wipe out the inside of the collar with alcohol and dry it completely before putting back on. Keeping the pads clean will help prevent skin problems. 

For young children who may move too much when the collar is off, your provider may want you to wear the collar while bathing. If this is the case, wear the collar as normal in the bath and use a washcloth to wipe the skin under the collar. After the bath, remove the collar and dry it and your skin completely. Replace the wet pads with your set of extra dry pads one at a time in order to make sure they are put back in correctly. Put the collar back on as usual. Again, avoid using lotions, creams and oils on your neck. 


Your Care Team

When should I call for help? Call Gillette Telehealth at 651-229-3890 if you have any concerns or notice any of the following after you start to wear your cervical collar: 

  • Worsening pain 
  • Redness 
  • Swelling 
  • New numbness/tingling in your arms or legs 

Call Gillette’s Orthopedics, Prosthetics and Seating (OPS) for adjustments to the collar if: 

  • Your collar needs repair
  • You have a skin rash, open sores or blisters
  • Your collar just doesn’t seem to fit right