Neck Injuries

Overview

Definition

A neck fracture is a break in any of the seven vertebrae in the neck.

Fracture Sites
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Causes

This injury is caused by trauma to the neck from:

  • Falls
  • A motor vehicle accident
  • Diving into shallow water
  • Severe and sudden twist to the neck
  • Severe blows to the head or neck

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of a fracture are:

  • Doing activities that involve heights, such as being on a ladder, bike, or horse
  • Playing contact sports, such as football, rugby, or ice hockey
  • Not wearing a seatbelt or safety gear for sports
  • Health problems that result in falls, such as weak muscles
  • Being around violence

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Symptoms may be:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Weakness or loss of feeling in the arms or legs

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will be asked how the injury happened. An exam will be done that focuses on your neck. It will also look for nerve damage.

Images may be taken. This can be done with:

  • X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan

Treatments

Treatment

A neck fracture is a severe injury that can lead to paralysis or death. It depends which bones are broken and whether there is spinal cord injury. The goals of treatment are to manage pain and support the bone. Options may be:

  • Medicine to ease pain
  • A brace or collar to keep the neck in line as a minor fracture heals
  • A stiff brace or halo vest to treat more severe fractures
  • Exercises to help with muscle strength and range of motion

Surgery

Some fractures cause pieces of bone to come apart. These pieces will need to be put back into place. Surgery may be done using plates, screws, or wires to reconnect the pieces and hold them in place.

Prevention

Most fractures are due to accidents. Always wear a seatbelt. Healthy muscles may also prevent some injuries. This may be done through exercise.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Broken Neck; Cervical Fracture)

RESOURCES

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine http://www.sportsmed.org 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://www.orthoinfo.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://www.coa-aco.org 

When it Hurts to Move—Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation http://whenithurtstomove.org 

References

Cervical fracture (broken neck). Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00414. Updated December 2013. Accessed September 27, 2019.

Spinal cord injury—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/management/spinal-cord-injury-emergency-management  . Accessed August 30, 2017.

Yue JK, Tsolinas R, et al. Vasopressor support in managing acute spinal cord injury: a knowledge update. J Neurosurg Sci. 2017 Mar 1 early online.