First Aid for Neck Injury

Emergency Medicine for Serious Neck Injury
 Jupiter Images/Getty Images

*Note: This article does NOT cover everything you need to know about neck or spinal cord injury. Any information about medical conditions resulting from trauma to your spine contained in this article are for general overview purposes only. It's best to take a class with the Red Cross to hone your first aid skills.

Injury to the spinal cord or other spinal structures sometimes result when trauma or impact to the neck area occurs.

Such occurances include, but are not limited to auto accidents, falls, objects that fall on you, gunshot wounds and surgical complications.

If someone in your immediate environment sustains an injury on the above list, or some other type of impact to their neck, first aid may be in order. And depending on who's on the scene, the responsibility of handling that person, and safely getting them the medical attention they need may fall to you.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you probably won't know the true extent of any damage that was done to the person's spine. Because of this, it's best to proceed with an abundance of caution. In other words, assume their injury is very serious, or even life threatening, and act accordingly.

Below are basic guidelines on how to respond when a person sustains a serious neck injury. As mentioned above, these guidelines and tips are not a substitute for being properly trained to take charge of the situation.

Rather, the goal is to outline the basic steps, and to point out key things to consider for the safest possible experience, and the best possible medical outcomes.

Neck Injury Emergency Dos and Don'ts

If you are around when a person has an accident or other trauma, the first thing to do is call 911. Calling 911 will likely be the fastest way to get emergency medical services to the scene.

Meanwhile, you'll need to care for them.

Do not move the person, especially at their head or neck, unless failure to do so presents an immediate threat to their life, or imminent danger. Keep in mind that some situations will present a moral dilemma you'll need to resolve, where moving them may make their injury worse, perhaps as a result incapacitating them for life, but not moving them may result in death. This is one of the many reasons why getting trained for medical emergencies is a good idea.

If the person is vomiting, choking on their own blood or you need to check for breathing and or a pulse in preparation for administering CPR, you may need to move them in order to save their life.

If moving the injured person is mandatory, keep their head and neck immobile and move their entire body as one unit.

Do the same if you need to roll them over. To roll a victim over, you will need at least two people, one at the victim's head and one at their feet.

CPR: Resuscitation

Knowing how to administer CPR properly is crucial to reacting productively in a emergency situation. Without this skill set, hopes of a good outcome for the injured person diminishes. Correctly administered CPR may make the difference between life and death.

The Red Cross offers certifying courses in CPR, as well as in first aid

Below are a few tips that may help you determine the need for CPR. When CPR is called for, it's best if someone with CPR certification is the one to take care of the injured or traumatized person until trained emergency medical personnel arrive on the scene.

First, check the person's breathing:

  • Position your cheek close to the victim's nose and mouth, look toward victim's chest.
  • Look, listen and feel for breathing for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Check the pulse (circulation).
  • Check for carotid pulse by feeling at side of victim's neck for 5 to 10 seconds.

    After checking breathing and pulse, determine if CPR is necessary. Do not lift the injured person's head back when opening their airway. Instead open the jaw by placing fingers on either side.

    Remember, this article is not a substitute for the proper training. Getting CPR and first aid training may be the best investment you ever make.


    Author's Notes taken from Red Cross Adult CPR/AED course. Madison, WI. March 2014.