What is a broken neck?

A broken neck (also known as a neck fracture) refers to a break or fracture on one of the seven cervical vertebrae between the skull and the upper back and shoulders. It’s a potentially serious condition as the spinal cord passes through this region and any damage to the spinal cord can result in permanent disability.

Fractures in the neck is a common sports injury. It can also result from high-energy trauma such as vehicular accidents and falls.

Symptoms of a Broken Neck

Pain is the most common symptom of a broken neck. It can occur as a result of a pinched nerve. When the sensory nerve is affected, it can cause tingling and numbness. If the motor nerve is affected, it can lead to paralysis and/or muscle weakness.

The pain, tingling, and numbness can be felt over the neck, shoulder, and upper arms. Aside from these, there can also be bruising or skin discoloration at the site of injury.

Diagnosing a Broken Neck

A broken neck is diagnosed through physical examination and radiological studies.

Through a comprehensive physical exam, the doctor can determine the severity of the injury. Oftentimes, symptoms such as pain and tingling suggest mild to moderate injury. Severe pain that comes with numbness and muscle weakness or paralysis usually suggest severe neck injury.

To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor usually recommends radiological studies like MRI or CT scan.

How It Is Treated

If neck injury is suspected, the initial action is to immobilize the neck with the use of a soft or rigid neck collar. Immobilization of the neck is important to prevent dislocation or displacement of the fracture.

A non-displaced neck fracture is usually managed through conservative methods like the use of neck brace and taking of medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Displaced fracture, on the other hand, is managed through surgery. The surgery involves insertion of bone graft and the use of plates and screws to align fragments of the displaced fracture.