Patient Education

To help you understand and navigate through your orthopedic health decisions, we have created a patient education section. Please select from one of the categories below to learn more about your condition or procedure.
Cervical Fracture

A cervical fracture, also known as a broken neck, involves a break in one or more of the seven cervical vertebrae in the neck. This type of injury is serious and potentially life-threatening due to its proximity to the spinal cord and the brainstem. Immediate medical attention is critical.

Common Symptoms

  • Severe neck pain: Immediate and intense pain in the neck region.
  • Swelling and bruising: Visible signs around the neck.
  • Limited mobility: Difficulty or inability to move the neck.
  • Numbness or tingling: Sensations in the arms, hands, or legs due to nerve involvement.
  • Weakness or paralysis: In severe cases, affecting the arms or legs.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control: If the spinal cord is involved.

Cause & Anatomy

Trauma:

  • Motor vehicle accidents: A leading cause due to high-impact collisions.
  • Falls: Especially from significant heights or in elderly individuals with osteoporosis.
  • Sports injuries: High-contact sports or activities with a risk of falling.
  • Violence: Gunshot wounds, stabbings, or severe blows to the neck.

Osteoporosis:

  • Weakened bones that are more susceptible to fractures.

Diagnosis

  • Physical examination: Initial assessment of neurological function and physical condition.
  • Imaging tests:
  • X-rays: To visualize bone fractures.
    • CT scans: Provide detailed images of the cervical vertebrae and can identify the extent of the fracture.
    • MRI: To evaluate soft tissue damage, including the spinal cord and surrounding ligaments.

Prevention

  • Safety measures: Use seat belts, protective sports gear, and fall prevention strategies, especially for the elderly.
  • Bone health: Maintain strong bones through diet, exercise, and, when appropriate, medications to treat osteoporosis.

Treatment

Immediate

  • Immobilization: Use of a cervical collar or brace to prevent further injury.
  • Hospitalization: For observation and further evaluation, particularly if there’s a risk of spinal cord injury.

Non-Surgical

  • Bracing: Use of a cervical collar or halo vest to stabilize the neck while it heals.
  • Medications: Pain relievers and muscle relaxants to manage pain and discomfort.
  • Physical therapy: Once initial healing has occurred, to restore movement and strength.

Surgical

  • Spinal fusion: Fusing two or more vertebrae together to provide stability.
  • Internal fixation: Using metal plates, screws, or rods to stabilize the fractured vertebrae.
  • Decompression: If there’s pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, removing bone fragments or relieving pressure is necessary.

Complications

  • Spinal cord injury: Leading to paralysis or loss of function below the level of injury.
  • Chronic pain: Persistent neck pain even after healing.
  • Nerve damage: Resulting in numbness, tingling, or weakness.
  • Instability: Persistent instability in the neck requiring ongoing treatment or surgery.

Prognosis

  • Recovery: Depends on the severity of the fracture, the specific vertebrae involved, and whether the spinal cord or nerves were affected. Early and appropriate treatment improves outcomes.
  • Rehabilitation: Essential for restoring function, reducing pain, and preventing complications.

FAQ’s

How serious is a cervical fracture?
Cervical fractures are very serious and potentially life-threatening due to the risk of spinal cord injury, which can result in paralysis or death if not promptly treated.

Can you recover fully from a cervical fracture?
Recovery depends on the severity of the fracture and whether the spinal cord was damaged. Many people recover fully with appropriate treatment, but some may experience long-term complications.

How is a cervical fracture diagnosed?
Diagnosis typically involves physical examination and imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs to assess the extent of the injury and involvement of the spinal cord.

What is the first aid for someone with a suspected cervical fracture?
Do not move the person unless absolutely necessary. Immobilize the neck, keep the person still, and call emergency medical services immediately.

How long does it take to recover from a cervical fracture?
Recovery time varies but generally ranges from several weeks to months. Complete healing can take up to a year, especially if surgery was required.

What types of surgeries are used to treat cervical fractures?
Common surgeries include spinal fusion, internal fixation, and decompression surgeries, depending on the nature and severity of the fracture.

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