How To Tell If You Have A Broken Neck

By Michelle Duclos, ATC

How To Tell If You Have A Broken Neck

A broken neck is a fracture of one or more of the seven vertebrae that make up the cervical spine. The cervical spine connects the skull base to the thoracic spinal region and comprises bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and discs. The cervical spine also acts as protection for the spinal cord. The spinal cord routes through the spinal column of the vertebrae. When a fracture occurs, it can also damage the spinal cord.  This can result in paralysis (loss of feeling and movement) or death. While a broken neck is a very serious matter, patients make a full recovery in many cases. Watch this VIDEO of anatomy of the spine.

Neck anatomy how to tell if you have a broken neck

How to tell if you have a broken neck


Causes of a Broken Neck

The causes Cervical fractures are usually some sort of trauma. This can include a car accident, a fall, or a sports activity. During the direct impact, the neck is forced into hyperflexion, hyperextension, or compression.  This may result in damage to the vertebrae, spinal cord, or vertebral discs. Even though the direct impact is the cause of most cervical fractures, cervical fractures can occur easily in patients with osteoporosis (weakening and thinning bones).

Neck Injuries Symptoms

Generally, each individual with a cervical fracture will experience slightly different signs and symptoms. The patient’s symptoms may fluctuate based on the severity and location of the fracture. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain (may be severe) and tenderness at the fracture site.
  • Decreased range of motion of the head or neck.
  • Reduced muscle control of neck muscles.
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing.
  • Swelling over the affected area.
  • Decreased mobility.
  • Radiating pain down head, neck, arms, or legs.

Diagnosing a Broken Neck

Imaging is very useful in the diagnosis of the cervical spine or neck.

how to tell if you have a broken neck, you will need images taken

Image of the Spine

Imaging will assess the fracture location, severity and determine injuries to which structures.

  • X-ray: Type of imaging used to evaluate the bones for fractures.
  • MRI: The type of imaging used to evaluate the soft tissue structures like the brain and spinal cord.
  • CT Scan: This type of imaging is used to analyze bone and spinal cord compression.

Treatment of Cervical Fractures

There are many different treatment options for patients with cervical fractures. The fracture’s location, severity of the fracture, and symptoms will determine the treatment plan. Therefore, treatment for fractures include surgery, immobilization, physical therapy, and medication.  For a suspected fracture, it is important not to move the patient until the neck is stable.  The exception to this rule is if the patient is in a life threatening situation from an accident.  Therefore, it is best to call 911 as soon as possible for cervical fractures.

Treatment of cervical fractures includes:

  • Surgery: Surgical intervention may require plates, screws, or wires to reconnect bone fragmentation and hold them in place. Surgery may be necessary to repair vertebrae, alleviate pressure on the spinal cord, or remove any damaged vertebral discs.
  • Immobilization: Treatment for some fractures can be by wearing a neck immobilizer (brace or collar) for up to eight weeks.
  • Medication: Used to control pain and inflammation. On occasion, antibiotics will be prescribed if an infection is present.
  • Physical Therapy: After surgery or immobilization, physical therapy is required to restore strength and range of motion to the cervical spine and surrounding area.  So, if you need physical therapy, give us a call.
Neck bones

Cervical Vertebral Bones

Related Articles: Proper Sitting Posture, Low Back Pain and Bones of the Neck

If you feel you may be suffering from this condition, our dedicated team of orthopedic specialists is ready to help you! To schedule an appointment, please call 904-JOI-2000 or click the button below to schedule an appointment online.

JOI Fracture and Injury Care

JOI Physicians are currently offering ASAP Fracture care.  This is a new option for patients who would like to avoid the emergency room.  So, if you want to schedule, give us a call or click below.

By: Michelle Duclos, ATC

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