Many patients with whiplash are told to wear a neck brace after an auto accident. But a growing body of research suggests that neck braces, called cervical collars, can actually do more harm than good.
Patients with whiplash have a better chance of recovery without cervical collars, a new study shows. The findings add to previous studies suggesting that patients may have improved outcomes with active treatments like exercise and chiropractic care.
Researchers from the Mexican Institute of Social Security evaluated the medical records of 100 patients with whiplash treated in emergency rooms. The majority (68%) were given cervical collars and anti-inflammatory drugs, while 32% received only the medications. Those wearing cervical collars were more likely to miss work than those without the collar. Within the 15% of patients who didn’t miss work, the majority were not wearing neck braces.
Earlier studies have also shown that wearing cervical collars can prolong pain and disability in whiplash patients. A 2008 meta-analysis of recent research on whiplash treatment found that cervical collars are primarily beneficial in cases of spinal fractures, but that in other cases, their use may inhibit recovery.
Cervical collars are designed to immobilize the spine, which was originally believed to prevent further damage or injury. However the inactivity induced by cervical collars may lead to muscle degeneration and decreased function. Now studies shows that active treatments are much more successful in treating musculoskeletal injuries like whiplash.
Chiropractic care includes gentle stretching, tissue work, exercises, and neck adjustments all designed to promote active rehabilitation. As a chiropractor works to correct any subluxations or tissue damage underlying the injury, patients experience better mobility and decreased pain. One study showed that chiropractic treatments significantly improved symptoms for 93% of patients with whiplash.
Hernández-Sousa MG, et al. Disability by cervical sprain 1 and II and the use of neck collar. Revista Medica del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social 2013;51(2):182-7.
Muzin S, Isaac Z, Walker J, et al. When should a cervical collar be used to treat neck pain? Current Reviews 2008; 1 (2): 114–119.