Neck Fracture

A neck fracture is a break in one or more of the seven cervical bones. The vertebrae are the bones that make up the spine. The cervical vertebrae in the neck are labeled C1-C7. They protect the spinal cord, support the neck, and allow for movement. It is important to recognize the possibility of a neck fracture.

  • Causes

    A neck fracture is caused by severe trauma to the neck, which is strong enough to break the vertebra. Trauma may be caused by:

    • Falls
    • Car, motorcycle, or pedestrian collisions
    • Diving into shallow water
    • Severe and sudden twist to the neck
    • Severe blows to the head or neck area

  • Definition

    A neck fracture is a break in one or more of the seven cervical bones. The vertebrae are the bones that make up the spine. The cervical vertebrae in the neck are labeled C1-C7. They protect the spinal cord, support the neck, and allow for movement. It is important to recognize the possibility of a neck fracture.

    Cervical Spine Fractures
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  • Diagnosis

    You will most likely be taken to a hospital. The doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The doctor will examine the injured area and perform a complete neurological exam.

    Imaging tests may include:

    • X-rays
      —to look for breaks in the bones or a dislocation of the vertebrae
    • MRI
      —provides cross-sectional images to look for spinal cord damage
    • CT scan
      —to analyze bone injury and to see if the spinal cord is compressed by a collection of blood

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of getting a neck fracture, take these steps:

    • Avoid situations that put you at risk of physical harm.
    • Always wear a seatbelt when driving in a car.
    • Do not drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
    • Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.
    • Use proper tackling techniques in football. Do not spear with your helmet.
    • Never dive in the shallow end of a pool.
    • Never dive into water where you do not know the depth or what obstacles may be present.
    • Do weight-bearing exercises to build strong muscles and bones.

    To help reduce falling hazards at work and home, take these steps:

    • Clean spills and slippery areas right away
    • Remove tripping hazards such as loose cords, rugs, and clutter
    • Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower
    • Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tub
    • Put in handrails on both sides of stairways
    • Walk only in well-lit rooms, stairs, and halls
    • Keep flashlights on hand in case of a power outage

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your risk of neck fracture include:

    • Falls from heights, such as a ladder, bike, or horse
    • Advancing age
    • Osteoporosis
    • Certain diseases or conditions that result in bone or mineral loss, such as abnormal or absent menstrual cycles, or post-menopause
    • Certain diseases and conditions that weaken bones, such as tumors or cysts
    • Decreased muscle mass
    • Playing certain sports that may result in neck fracture, such as football, rugby, or ice hockey
    • Not wearing your seatbelt or protective sports equipment
    • Head or other traumatic injury, such as severe chest trauma, pelvic or femur fractures
    • Violence

  • Symptoms

    A neck fracture is very serious and can lead to paralysis or possibly death. A person with a neck injury should not be moved without competent medical care, which is needed immediately.

    Neck fracture may cause:

    • Severe pain
    • Swelling and possible bruising
    • Tenderness
    • Decreased feeling in the arms or legs
    • Muscle weakness or paralysis of the arms or legs

  • Treatment

    Neck fractures are serious injuries that can lead to paralysis or death. Call for medical help right away.

    If you have a neck fracture, follow your doctor's instructions.