Cervical Fracture


Any injury to the vertebrae can be potentially serious because it involves the spinal cord. It's here that the central nervous system connects the brain and the body, running through the vertebrae the length of the spine. Any damage to the spinal cord can result in paralysis or even death.


Causes of Cervical Fractures

Cervical fractures usually result from high-energy trauma, such as an automobile accident or a fall. Athletes are also at risk.
A cervical fracture can occur if:

  • A football player "spears" an opponent in the head.
  • An ice hockey player is struck from behind and rams into the boards.
  • A gymnast misses the high bar during a release move and falls to the mat.
  • A diver strikes the bottom of a pool that is too shallow.


Emergency Response

In any situation that involves the neck or spine, the injured athlete should be immobilized until x-rays can be taken and reviewed by the medical team at the FHCH Sports Medicine Program.

You or trained medical personnel on the scene should assume that any unconscious person has a neck injury and respond accordingly. The victim may also be in shock and either have temporary or permanent paralysis.
Conscious patients with an acute neck injury will usually report severe neck pain. They may also have pain spreading from the neck to the shoulders and arms due to a vertebra compressing a nerve. Some bruising and swelling may also be apparent at the back of the neck.

Once the patient has been admitted to the FHCH Sports Medicine Program, the experts in sports medicine will perform a complete neurological examination to assess nerve function and may request additional radiographic studies, such as an MRI or computed tomography (CT scan) to determine the nature and extent of any injuries.


Preventing a Cervical Fracture

You can help protect yourself and your family if you:

  • Always wear a seat belt when you are driving or are a passenger in a car.
  • Never dive in a shallow pool area and be sure that young people are properly supervised when swimming and diving.
  • Wear the proper protective equipment for your sport and follow all safety regulations, such as having a spotter and appropriate cushioning mats.


Treatment for a Cervical Fracture

Treatment will depend on which of the seven cervical vertebrae are damaged and the kind of fracture that has been sustained. A minor compression fracture can be treated with a cervical brace that is worn for 6 to 8 weeks until the bone heals.

A more complex or extensive fracture may require traction, surgery, an internal fixation, 2 to 3 months in a rigid cast or a combination of these treatments.

If you have questions about cervical fractures, their causes or treatments, you can contact one of our Patient Care Coordinators and they'll be happy to answer them.