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Cervical Neck Fractures

Cause, diagnosis and treatment of cervical fractures (broken neck)


Updated May 16, 2014

Doctor adjusting patient's neck brace
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There are seven cervical vertebrae in the neck that support your head and connect it to the shoulders and body. A fracture (break or crack) in one of the cervical vertebrae is called a cervical fracture or sometimes, a broken neck.

Causes of Cervical Fractures
Cervical fractures are most often caused by a forceful impact, or traumatic blow to the head. 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.

Immediate First Aid for Neck Injuries
Any injury to the head or neck should be evaluated for a neck fracture. A cervical fracture is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Spine-related trauma may injury the spinal cord and could result in paralysis, so keeping the neck still is critical.

If there is any chance of a cervical fracture, the patient's neck should be immobilized (not moved) until medical attention arrives and X-rays can be taken. It's best to assume there is a neck injury in anyone who has an impact,fall or collision-type of injury.

Symptoms of a cervical fracture include severe neck and head pain, pain that radiates to the shoulders or arms, or bruising and swelling at the back of the neck.

Treatment of Cervical Fractures
The treatment of a cervical fracture depends upon which cervical vertebrae was damaged and the extend of the fracture. A minor (compression) fracture is often treated with a cervical collar or brace worn for six to eight weeks until the bone heals on its own.

A more severe or complex fracture may require traction, or surgical repair or a spinal fusion.

Surgical repair of a cervical fracture can result in a long recovery time followed by physical therapy.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, [orthoinfo.aaos.org] Cervical Fracture, Patient Information.

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