What are Cervical Neck Fractures?

Cause, diagnosis and treatment of cervical fractures, or a broken neck

Doctor adjusting patient's neck brace
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 A fracture (break or crack) in one of the seven cervical vertebrae in your neck that support your head and connect it to the shoulders and body is called a cervical fracture or sometimes, a broken neck.

A broken neck is a big deal because it is the central nervous system's main, some my say only, connection between the brain and the body. It runs through the vertebrae. This is why any injury to the cervical vertebrae has serious consequences.

In fact, any damage to the spinal cord can result in paralysis or death. Injury to the spinal cord at the level of the cervical spine can lead to temporary or permanent paralysis of the entire body from the neck down.

Causes of Cervical Fractures

Cervical fractures are most often caused by a forceful impact, or traumatic blow to the head. Athletes involved in impact sports, or participating in sports such as skiing, diving, football, cycling that have a risk of falling or 'snapping' the neck are all linked to neck fractures.

Immediate First Aid for Neck Injuries

It's best to assume there is a neck injury in anyone who has an impact,fall or collision-type of injury. Conscious patients may or may not have severe neck pain. They may also have pain spreading from the neck to the shoulders or arms, resulting from the vertebra compressing a nerve. There may be some bruising and swelling at the back of the neck.

Any injury to the head or neck should be evaluated for a neck fracture. A cervical fracture is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Spine-related trauma may injury the spinal cord and could result in paralysis, so keeping the neck still is critical.

If there is any chance of a cervical fracture, the patient's neck should be immobilized (not moved) until medical attention arrives and X-rays can be taken.

 The physician will perform a complete neurological examination to assess nerve function and may request additional radiographic studies, such as MRI or computed tomography (CT), to determine the extent of the injuries.

Treatment of Cervical Fractures

The treatment of a cervical fracture depends upon which cervical vertebrae was damaged and the extend of the fracture. A minor (compression) fracture is often treated with a cervical collar or brace worn for six to eight weeks until the bone heals on its own.

A more severe or complex fracture may require traction, or surgical repair or a spinal fusion. Surgical repair of a cervical fracture can result in a long recovery time followed by physical therapy.

Preventing Cervical Fractures

Luckily there are some simple things that you can do to prevent a broken neck. By simply, wearing a seatbelt each time that you get into a car, or wearing proper protective sports equipment and following safety regulations, or never diving into a shallow pool area.

If you are a parent, make sure that you educating your children and their friends on protecting their neck and heads. 

Source

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, [orthoinfo.aaos.org] Cervical Fracture, Patient Information.

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