How To Tell If You Have A Broken Neck


How To Tell If You Have A Broken Neck

A broken neck is defined as a fracture to 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 is composed of 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 formed by the vertebrae. When a fracture occurs, it can also damage the spinal cord and result in paralysis (loss of feeling and movement) or death. While a broken neck is a very serious matter, in many cases, patients make a full recovery.

A broken neck needs immediate medical attention. JOI spine doctors are here to take your call.

Spine Anatomy.

Causes of a Broken Neck

Typically, cervical fractures are caused by direct 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 is compressed. 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).

Signs and 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 required to determine which vertebrae are affected in most situations. Imaging will access the fracture location, its severity and determine what structures may be affected or at risk due to the fracture.

  • 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.


There are many different treatment options for patients with cervical fractures. Each treatment plan is managed differently due to the fracture’s location, severity of the fracture, and the patient’s symptoms. Generally, most fractures are treated by surgery, immobilization/bracing, physical therapy, and medication.

  • Surgery: Surgical intervention may require plates, screws, or wires to reconnect bone fragmentation and hold them in place. Surgery may also be necessary to repair vertebrae, alleviate pressure on the spinal cord, or remove any damaged vertebral discs.
  • Immobilization: Some non-displaced fractures can be treated by wearing a neck immobilizer (brace or collar) for up to eight weeks. These devices will keep your neck in alignment while it heals.
  • 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.

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 JOI-2000 or click the button below to schedule an appointment online.

Where is Telemedicine frequently used?

All JOI Physicians, Physical Therapists, and Occupational Therapists now offer Telemedicine services for virtual visits from the convenience of your home. If you feel that it is best to stay in your own home during this time, we can still provide orthopaedic Telehealth services for you through the download of the free Zoom app on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Our physicians and Telehealth for Physical Therapy can evaluate you and provide the care you need.

JOI Fracture and Injury Care

JOI Physicians are currently offering ASAP Fracture care. Make an appointment by calling (904)JOI-2000. This is a new option for patients who would like to avoid the emergency room if they have suffered a fracture or soft tissue injury. To learn more about this service, read this article about fracture and injury care.

Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician using telemedicine.

Dr. Kevin Kaplan seeing a patient through telemedicine.

By: Michelle Duclos, ATC

Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician.

Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician.

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