A fracture, or break, in one of the cervical vertebrae is known as Cervical Fracture or broken neck. Vertebrae are the bones that make up our spine. There are seven cervical vertebrae in the neck that support our head and connect it to the shoulders and body.
The cervical vertebrae enclose the spinal cord. The spinal cord is where the nerves from your brain go to the rest of the body. With a cervical fracture, the spinal cord may also be damaged.
Alternative Names of Cervical Fracture: Broken neck
Causes of Cervical Fracture
Automobile crashes or falls.
Athletes involved in impact sports, or participating in sports that have a risk of falling of 'snapping' the neck (skiing, diving, football, cycling) all are linked to neck fractures.
Signs & Symptoms of Cervical Fracture
Being unable to move your neck, or pain when moving your neck.
Bruising and swelling at the back of your neck.
Loss of feeling or pin-prick pain in your arms or legs.
Muscle weakness or paralysis (no movement) of your arms or legs.
Pain in one part of your neck, or pain spreading from your neck to your shoulders or arms.
Diagnosis of Cervical Fracture
The physician will perform a complete neurological examination to assess nerve function and may request additional radiographic studies like :
C- Spine x-rays: You may need cervical spine (c-spine) x-rays to check for broken bones or other problems in your neck.
CAT scan: It is also called Computerized tomography scan. This is a type of x-ray that uses computers to take pictures of the cervical spine. It can be used to learn how bad the injury is, and to see if the spinal cord is injured.
MRI Scan: It is also called Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan .This test uses magnetic waves to take pictures of the cervical spine.
Treatments of Cervical Fracture
The treatment of a cervical fracture depends upon which cervical vertebrae was damaged and the extend of the fracture.
A) For Minor fractures:
These may be treated with complete immobilization (keeping your head from moving), using any of the following cervical braces until the bone heals:
Halo brace: This is the most rigid (stiff) of the cervical braces because of the material. The halo brace may be used for unstable cervical fractures.
Philadelphia collar: This is a type of brace used to keep your neck and head in the correct position. This collar keeps your neck from moving forward, bending backward, and your head from turning.
Soft collar: A soft collar is a flexible brace placed around the neck. It is often used after a more rigid collar has been worn.
B) For Major fractures:
These may include many fractures or dislocations (bones that have changed position). More severe fractures may require surgery to return the bones to their normal position.
Types of Surgery:
Anterior cervical discectomy: Surgery to remove a damaged disc may be done to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. A disc is a tough sac filled with a jelly-like substance. Discs sit between each of the bones in your neck and act as shock absorbers. The bones involved then may be fused (locked) together to make it more stable.
Internal fixation: A metal plate with screws may be used to help hold the bones in place.
Traction: Traction helps straighten the broken bones by using a device to pull on the neck.
Always wear a seat belt when you are driving or riding in a car.
Do weight-bearing exercises to build strong bones (walking, jogging, stair climbing).
Eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, salmon, tofu, almonds, and beans.
Never dive in a shallow pool area or in water where you do not know the depth.
Wear proper padding and protective equipment for your sport. Follow all safety regulations.
When to seek Medical Advice
Severe neck pain especially after sudden movement of the neck due to sports or accident. The pain generally spreads from the neck to the shoulders or arms, resulting from the vertebra compressing a nerve.