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Neck Fracture

Neck Anatomy

The cervical spine is formed by seven square shaped bones called cervical vertebrae. The vertebrae are named beginning at the top with C1, C2, C3, down to C7. Together with the supporting ligaments and the overlying neck muscles, the cervical vertebrae form a spinal canal that surrounds and protects the spinal cord. The vertebrae have gelatin-like discs between them which function as shock absorbers.

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A neck fracture occurs when a person breaks one of the cervical vertebrae. There are different types of neck fractures, depending on which bone breaks and how it breaks. Some are much more serious than others. The most feared complication of the neck fracture is damage to the spinal cord which can lead to paralysis. It is crucial to immobilize the spine with a cervical collar as soon as the neck injury occurs to prevent any further shift of bone fragments and potential spinal cord injury.


  • Neck pain
  • Neck muscle spasm
  • Inability to move the neck or turn the head
  • Weakness or paralysis in the arms or legs
  • Numbness or tingling the arms or legs

Types of Neck Fractures

  • Atlas (C1) fracture – usually treated with a halo brace; surgical fusion is occasionally necessary.
  • Odontoid fractures (C2) – result from the direct head impact which causes a fracture in the tooth-like projection from C2 v known as dens or odontoid. These fractures are usually managed non-surgically and have a good prognosis.
  • Hangman’s fracture usually results from hyperextension injury during motor vehicle or diving accidents. The name is derived from the similar injury suffered during execution-style hangings. Most cases can be successfully treated with immobilization but surgical fusion may be indicated.
  • Cervical compression fractures can often occur when an athlete uses the head in blocking or tackling or during diving into shallow water. Mild fractures result in neck pain and spasm. Severe fractures can cause quadriplegia and death.
  • Cervical spinous process fracture is a fracture of the tip of the spinous process most commonly involving C7 vertebrae. This type of fracture is commonly seen following trauma from an assault or motor vehicle accident. Treatment consists of cervical collar immobilization and pain relief.


Neck fractures are usually diagnosed with an X-ray or CT scan of the neck.


Treatment depends on the type of the fracture. Severe neck fractures will require hospitalization and surgery. Neck fractures that are not as serious are usually treated with a special neck collar or brace to hold the neck in place so it can’t move. People need to wear the collar or brace until their fracture heals.

It may take months for neck fracture to heal. After the fracture heals, a course of physical therapy is usually recommended to strengthen the weakened neck muscles. Eating enough calcium, vitamin D and protein and abstaining from smoking will help to expedite the healing process.

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