Health Library Explorer
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A-Z Listings Contact Us
Search Results
Translate

Neck or Spine Fractures (Broken Neck or Spine)

Your spine stretches from the base of your skull to your tailbone. It's composed of 33 bones (vertebrae) that help support your body. These bones also protect your spinal cord, the important branch of your nervous system that carries messages from your brain to your body. A broken (fractured) bone in your neck or spine can be very serious. In some cases it can lead to paralysis or death. Emergency care is crucial.

Keep Neck and Spine Injuries Still

A person with a neck or spine injury should not move or be moved. The person should lie still and wait for an emergency medical team. It can help for someone to gently support the person's head with both hands until help arrives. If a person is in danger and MUST be moved:

  • Place a blanket under the person and drag it along the ground.

  • If you don't have a blanket, grasp the person by the shoulders. Use your forearms to support his or her head. Then, pull the person to safety.

When to Go to the Emergency Room (ER)

When a neck or spine injury is suspected, call for emergency help right away. Do not attempt to transport the victim yourself. Symptoms may include:

  • Unconsciousness

  • Severe back or neck pain

  • Bruising and swelling over the neck or back

  • Tingling or loss of feeling in the hands or feet

  • Loss of bowel or bladder function

  • Loss of feeling and movement below the level of injury

What to Expect in the ER

  • You will be examined and asked about your injury. For the exam, you may be placed on a spine board that prevents you from moving.

  • A collar may be placed around your neck.

  • Your neck and/or spine may be x-rayed.

  • A computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be done. These provide more detailed images of the structures in your neck and back.

  • Medication may be given to lessen pain.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to return your neck or spine to its normal position.

  • A minor neck fracture or simple spine fracture may be treated with a neck brace. You may wear the brace for 6 to 8 weeks until the bone heals. You may be asked to do certain exercises during healing.

  • Severe or complex fractures often need surgery. In that case, you will be referred to a bone specialist (orthopaedic surgeon) or nerve specialist (neurosurgeon).

Online Medical Reviewer: Costello, Melissa W, MD, FACEP
Online Medical Reviewer: Williams, James M, MS, DO, FACEP
Date Last Reviewed: 12/29/2011
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.