Whether you're in the midst of cervical fusion recovery, battling a pinched nerve or experiencing any other type of spine- or neck-related injury or complication, the cervical collar isn't exactly everyone's favorite fashion accessory. Think of it more like tough love personified.
While this bulky apparatus, which comes in a variety of hard and soft configurations, isn't exactly a confidence booster and often awkwardly limits the movement of your neck, that important limitation protects your spine as it heals.
No matter what kind of cervical collar you wear — from a simple soft collar to a more complex hard model that extends all the way from your jaw to your sternum — supporting your spine doesn't have to ruin your sleep.
You'll typically sleep on your back and "log roll" in and out of bed with a cervical collar, but heed your doctor's instructions above all.
Yes, Wear It to Bed
As Mayo Clinic notes, a cervical collar isn't always the right choice, especially for long-term recovery. If it's part of your recovery plan, however, your doctor will fit it just right.
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Still, you might find yourself wondering, "Do I need to wear this neck brace for sleeping?" As your doctor will likely tell you, the answer is yes — and you also need to wear the collar for as long as your doctor orders you to wear it, in and out of bed.
Not only you need to wear the collar to bed, but you'll wear it just about everywhere else. Some soft collars are even worn in the shower, though this is not usually the case for hard collars. Keeping the collar on at all times helps minimize neck pain and prevent further, sometimes permanent, injury.
However, there are a few things you need to avoid doing while wearing a neck collar, according to the Intermountain Healthcare hospital system of Utah:
- Lifting heavy objects (generally above 10 pounds)
- Driving a vehicle
- Operating heavy machinery
- Performing pushing, pulling or twisting motions (such as vacuuming, mowing or shoveling)
- Doing high-impact exercise (including running)
- Playing sports
Typically, the only time you'll remove the collar during your recovery period is to change its pads or to perform routine cleaning.
Cervical Collar: Sleeping Safely
While it's just about certain that you'll be wearing your neck collar to bed (unless your physician has explicitly told you not to), you'll have to adopt a few safe sleeping habits while it's on. This will ensure you get the high-quality sleep your body needs to heal, especially during neck surgery recovery.
Avoid lying on your stomach, in or out of bed, says the NHS Foundation Trust Poole Hospital of Dorset, England. Sleeping on your back is preferable when wearing a collar, though you may also be able to sleep on your side if you find sleeping on your back uncomfortable. In either case, keeping your neck straight is key.
A firm mattress is best for cervical collar wearers because it offers optimal spinal support. Likewise, stick with a single supportive pillow. The pillow should be thick enough to support your neck without bending it, unless your doctor has instructed you to sleep in a different position.
If your collar is connected to an upper-back brace — a configuration known as a cervical-thoracic brace — your physician may allow you to swap it out for just a hard cervical collar when you're lying in bed. Similarly, you may be instructed to sleep in a semi-reclined position with a rolled-up towel placed under your neck for support when wearing a more complex collar, such as a cervical-thoracic brace or a three-part halo ring brace.
Learn the Log Roll
With virtually any type of cervical collar, the safest way to get in and out of bed without moving, stressing or straining your neck is a helpful method commonly known as log rolling. However, this strategy should not be used if you're also suffering from a pelvic fracture, according to a November 2017 review published in the International Journal of Orthopaedic and Trauma Nursing.
Before you leave the medical facility with your collar, the staff will most likely instruct you on the log rolling technique. But, just in case you need to brush up a bit, here's how the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University breaks down the steps for getting out of bed:
- Slide to the side of the bed opposite where you'd like to exit; while lying on your back, drive the movement with your hips, arms or legs.
- Roll (like a log) to the edge of the bed where you'll stand up so that you end up lying on your side, almost on your stomach. Keep your knees bent with one arm under your side.
- Push with the elbow that's under your body to lift yourself up as you simultaneously drop your legs off the side of the bed. Keep your back straight as you rise into the seated position, now ready to stand up and exit the bed.
Throughout the log roll, it's crucial to keep your neck straight at all times. To get into bed, start in the upright seated position at the edge of the mattress, then lean down on your elbow and forearm, easing your body into a side-lying position. Lift your legs up onto the bed as you remain lying on your side, then roll (there's that all-important key word) onto your back and start counting sheep.
More Cervical Collar Tips
Your bed is also where you'll find yourself for the few moments in which you need to remove the cervical collar, which is when the pads need changing or during cleaning. Enlist a helping hand to swap out the pads (using the collar's instructions) while you rest in bed and keep your neck fully supported. Be sure that you do not move your neck during this time.
Hull University points out that, in some cases, your doctor may give you permission to sit straight up when the collar is briefly removed, but even in this case, the neck must remain still.
As the Cleveland Clinic points out, cervical collars are often used in combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers like aspirin to cut back on swelling and discomfort. When you're out of bed and sporting a cervical collar, it's typically safe to perform activities, such as walking and low-impact exercise. Always closely follow the directions provided by your health care provider on your journey to post-surgery recovery or spinal rehabilitation.
- Government of Alberta: MyHealth.Alberta.ca: "Learning About Hard Cervical Collars"
- Intermountain Healthcare: "Cervical Spine Injury and Neck Collar"
- NHS Trust: Hull University Teaching Hospitals: "Guide to Wearing Your Cervical Hard Collar"
- NHS Trust: Poole Hospital: "Advice on Wearing a Cervical Collar"
- Mayfield Brain and Spine: "Braces for Your Neck and Back"
- Ohio State University: Wexner Medical Center: "Log Rolling"
- Mayo Clinic: "Neck Pain"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Treating a Pinched Nerve"
- International Journal of Orthopaedic and Trauma Nursing: "To Log-Roll or Not to Log-Roll — That Is the Question! A Review of the Use of the Log-Roll for Patients With Pelvic Fractures"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Degenerative Neck Conditions"
Dan combines his decade-long experience as a freelance writer and small business owner with hands-on experience in fashion, mixology, media production and more. Previously, he's published with Chron.com, Charlotte's Book, LIVESTRONG, Civilized Life, Hunker, Fortune, Salon.com, Out East Rose, Samsung, USA Today and others.