Seven bones make up the cervical vertebrae, commonly known as your neck. Of course, the function of the neck is to support the head and connect it to the shoulders and the torso. Break one of those seven bones and you’ve broken your neck.
These injuries are the result of what it is called “high-energy trauma.” This can happen in a car wreck, a fall, or during sports. Most people associate them with sports such as football or ice hockey, but the cervical vertebrae are also broken when horseback riding, skiing, surfing, weight-lifting, or just diving into a pool or too-shallow water.
Cervical fractures are very serious injuries because they may involve the spinal core and can lead to a loss of sensation, paralysis, or even death. The spinal cord runs through the center of all seven cervical vertebrae.
Examples of causes
High-trauma in this case usually involves compression or downward force from the head pushing straight down the spine. These are some instances where this can happen:
- A football player who tackles an opponent by leading with the crown of his helmet.
- A hockey player who is checked from behind and sent into the boards headfirst.
- A gymnast who misses the high bar during a routine and falls on his head.
- A diver who misjudges the depth of the pool or water source and hits the bottom.
- A person tossed from a horse.
- A skier who falls forward and impacts a rock or a tree.
Usually a patient who suffers a cervical fracture experiences intense pain in the neck, shoulders, and down the arms. Bruising and swelling will usually occur at the back of the neck, and there may be numbness at the site of the injury and down the arm. In severe cases, the patient may suffer paralysis. That’s why the patient needs to have his or her neck immobilized prior to moving them.
Diagnosis and treatment
When the patient comes to the team at Texas Neurosurgery, we will take x-rays to determine the precise location and severity of the bone fracture. Beyond that we are likely to perform a CT scan or MRI to determine the soft tissue damage.
Treatment will depend on which of the seven cervical vertebrae are damaged and the kind of fracture sustained. A minor compression fracture can be treated with a cervical brace worn for up to two months. More extensive fractures may require full traction, surgery, up to three months in a rigid cast, or a combination of treatments.
Obviously, the best treatment for a cervical fracture is preventing it in the first place. Things like wearing seat belts, using the proper protective equipment in sports, learning like how to tackle correctly, not diving into shallow pools, and the like are key to preventing broken necks.
Still, if it happens, you’re in the best hands with the team at Texas Neurosurgery. If you have questions, call us at 214-823-2052.
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