Broken Neck

What is Broken Neck?

A broken neck occurs when there is a sudden impact or force against the cervical spine. The skull may break into several pieces and the brain may be displaced from its position in the head. A broken neck can cause severe pain, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness and numbness in one’s arms and legs. Some people experience no symptoms at all while others suffer from mild to moderate symptoms such as headaches or muscle spasms.

How many people are affected by a broken neck?

The exact number of people who have suffered from a broken neck is not known. However, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), there were over 10 million emergency room visits due to falls involving the head in 2003. Of these, almost 4 million involved patients under age 65 years. There was a total of 5,749 deaths resulting from falls involving the head in 2003. These numbers do not include other injuries caused by falling objects such as motor vehicle accidents or drowning.

What are the symptoms of a broken neck?

Symptoms vary depending on which part of the body is hit. For example, if it is your face then you will feel dizzy and lose balance. If it is your chest then you may experience shortness of breath and chest pains. If it is your neck then you may experience a sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis that may extend down into one or both of your arms or legs. The degree of injury can also affect the symptoms. For example, if you hit your head and suffer a minor concussion causing head trauma, you may feel dizzy and confused while someone who suffers from a more severe head trauma may lose consciousness, vomit, urinate or even choke.

How is a broken neck diagnosed?

The diagnosis is made by your doctor based on your medical history, a neurological exam and necessary tests. Your doctor may order an X-ray or an MRI scan of your neck. He may also arrange for a CT scan, bone scan or a myelogram to check the condition of your spine, skull and the surrounding area.

How is a broken neck treated?

Treatment options are different for children under age 18 and adults over age 18. Children under age 18 are treated by pediatricians and must be transferred to a hospital that has pediatric trauma facilities. Specialists who deal with children who have broken necks can perform surgery to fuse the child’s spine together using a metal bar to stabilize the spine. An adult patient over the age of 18 is treated by surgeons trained in adult spinal care or orthopedics. The patient may undergo surgery or other procedures depending on your case. The goal of treatment is to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and nerves by replacing the bones and putting them in their proper place. The timing of any surgery is also important since there is a risk that spinal cord damage can worsen over time.

What are the complications of a broken neck?

There are several types of complications that may occur due to a broken neck. They include temporary and permanent nerve damage, paralysis, loss of sensation and difficulty moving arms or legs (called tetraplegia or quadriplegia), respiratory failure resulting from chest trauma and blood clots to the brain.

Treatment for broken neck

The treatment options available for a broken neck are dependent upon the type, location and seriousness of the injury. The treatment options include the following:

* Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids may be given to treat pain and inflammation.

* Immobilization: A neck brace or a halo brace may be worn to keep the head from moving. This helps to maintain the neck bones in their original position until they heal. Immobilization is important because a movement of as little as one centimeter can cause additional damage to the spinal cord or nerves.

* Surgery: Some people may require surgery to realign and fuse the bones of the neck with a metal device called a halo or with bone grafting.

* Continuing care: Following treatment and after being discharged from the hospital, patients may require further treatment by a neurologist or physiotherapist. They will teach you how to move again, help you re-learn basic skills and monitor your condition over time.

* Alternative medicine: Some people choose to pursue alternative treatment such as acupuncture, faith healing, chiropractic or home remedies.

What is the recovery time for a broken neck?

The recovery time after a broken neck is highly individual and dependent on many factors. These factors include the type of fracture, the location of the injury and the amount of damage to the nerves, spinal cord and other tissues. A person who has a simple fracture near the top of the spine that does not damage the spinal cord or surrounding nerves may recover completely in as little as one to three months. Other patients with more serious fractures that impact the spinal cord or surrounding nerves and cause multiple fractures or bone displacement across several vertebrae may never recover normal movement and feeling. These patients may require extensive treatment for the rest of their lives.

What is considered a full recovery from a broken neck?

A full recovery is when a patient has no pain, normal range of motion, normal feeling and no abnormal medical findings on neurological examination. Some patients will have minor effects from their injury such as a slight shift in posture or feel mild numbness in their arms or legs after the injury has healed. These people are still able to fully recover and lead a normal life.

What is considered a bad prognosis after a broken neck?

A bad prognosis is given to a person who has severe damage to the spinal cord or surrounding nerves. These injuries cause paralysis or loss of sensation or function that is not likely to improve even with extended treatment and continued medical care.

What is considered a terminal prognosis after a broken neck?

A terminal prognosis is given to a person who may have some movement and feeling but will be permanently paralyzed and require extensive ongoing medical treatment. This is a rare prognosis and most patients who experience a broken neck will be able to walk again with the help of physical therapy.

Can I prevent a broken neck?

The best way to prevent a broken neck is to wear a seat belt while in a car, not to text and drive, avoid drinking and driving and wear a helmet if you plan on participating in an activity that gives no choice but to not wear a seat belt. Other ways to prevent a broken neck is to wear a helmet when riding a bike, skateboarding, or participating in other recreational activities.

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Sources & references used in this article:

The “broken neck syndrome” in sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax L.) by G Šarušić, D Lisac – Aquaculture, 1987 – Elsevier

Ceratopsian dinosaur survives a broken neck by DH Tanke, BM Rothschild… – Hosted by University …, 2017 –

Penetrating zone II neck injury by broken windshield by K Ozturk, B Keles, Z Cenik… – International wound …, 2006 – Wiley Online Library