There are many types of neck and back injuries, some of which are mild, but often they can be severe. One of the most frequent reasons people sustain neck and back injuries is because of car, bike and pedestrian accidents.
A cervical fracture is one particular type of neck injury that can lead to severe injuries and the need for surgery.
The following are some of the things to know about a cervical fracture and what the healing process might be like.
What is a Cervical Fracture?
A cervical fracture is also known as a neck fracture. This type of injury can occur when you’re in a car accident, because of a fall, or due to violence. If you’re older or you have a disease that weakens your bones, a sudden, hard twist can break your neck.
Athletes are often at risk of a cervical fracture, and in particular, football players, divers, gymnasts and hockey players could sustain this type of injury.
Your neck contains vertebrae, also called cervical bones. They make up your spine, and they’re labeled C1 through C7. Your cervical bones help protect your spinal cord, provide movement, and support your neck.
If there’s a suspected cervical fracture, first responders first immobilize the person. Then, once they have stabilized through immobilization, they can start to determine the extent of the injury.
Frequent reasons people sustain neck and back injuries
Any time the vertebrae are injured, the outcomes can be serious because the spinal cord runs through the center of your vertebrae. Damage to the spinal cord can cause paralysis or death.
Whenever someone sustains an injury to the head or neck, even if it initially seems mild, they should receive immediate medical attention, and they should be evaluated for a neck fracture.
If there’s even a slight chance of a cervical fracture, a patient’s neck needs to be immobilized until there’s medical attention and X-rays are taken.
Symptoms of a Cervical Fracture
Some of the potential symptoms that can occur when someone has a cervical fracture include:
- Pain, muscle spasms, swelling, or tenderness in the neck
- Feeling like you can’t twist or turn your neck freely
- Problems breathing or swallowing
- Loss of feeling in your arms or legs, or pinprick pain
- Numbness or tingling at your head base
- Loss of consciousness or double vision
Diagnosing a Cervical Fracture
A healthcare provider will usually first ask you about your injury and how it occurred and then go over any signs or symptoms you might be experiencing. A healthcare provider can check for potential issues with your sense of touch, reflexes and muscles.
X-rays may be done, and a healthcare provider might also order a CT scan or MRI. These imaging tests can show if there’s damage to the spinal cord or pressure, and you could be given contrast liquid to help your spinal cord be more visible in pictures.
Imaging scans can help care providers determine which neck bones are broken of the seven total that you have. They can determine what part of the bones are broken, how severe a fracture is, and whether there is temporary or permanent nerve or spinal cord injury.
How Are Neck Fractures Treated?
The treatment for a cervical fracture depends on the severity and type of damage.
If someone has a minor neck fracture, they might wear a neck brace or collar. You can wear these often for up to eight weeks. They keep your neck properly aligned as it heals.
If you have a severe fracture, you might need something called traction, which significantly limits your movement as it heals. You could wear something called a halo vest or maybe a rigid brace for up to 12 weeks. During that time you can’t do many activities.
Sometimes, you may need surgery.
Surgery can reconnect pieces of bones to hold them in place, and it can repair your vertebrae. Surgery can also alleviate pressure on your spinal cord and remove damaged discs.
Finally, a neck fracture could mean that you end up with permanent injuries and paralysis. You may need long-term rehabilitation and physical therapy. You might also face long-term changes to your work, family, and social life.
If you’re injured, and it causes a cervical fracture, because of the high costs of medical treatment and long-term impact on your life, you might want to talk to an attorney about possible compensation. You may also need a long-term care team that includes pain management specialists, a rehab team, trauma support, and social and mental health providers.