A neck fracture is a break in any of the 7 vertebrae in the neck.
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This injury is caused by trauma to the neck from:
- A motor vehicle accident
- Diving into shallow water
- Severe and sudden twist to the neck
- Severe blows to the head or neck
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
Symptoms may be:
- Swelling and bruising
- Weakness or loss of feeling in the arms or legs
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:
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
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.
Most fractures are due to accidents. Always wear a seatbelt. Healthy muscles may also prevent some injuries. This may be done through exercise.
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
When it Hurts to Move—Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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 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.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 9/4/2020