Broken neck: causes, treatment and recovery times


A broken neck can be a simple break like any other bone in your body or it can be very serious and can cause paralysis or death. When the bones in your neck break, the nerves in the spinal cord can also be damaged. When this happens, it is known as a spinal cord injury. A broken neck is a very serious injury and should be treated as a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

The symptoms of a broken neck

A broken neck is usually very painful and can make it difficult or impossible to move the head.

Depending on the level of damage to your spinal cord, it can also affect other parts of your body, such as a difficulty or inability to move your arms and legs. Paralysis can be temporary or permanent.

A person may also feel tingling in their hands and feet and difficulty maintaining balance and walking.

Causes of a broken neck

The causes of a neck fracture are usually some type of trauma, such as a fall or car accident. Very rarely a stress fracture occurs, a rupture caused by constant or repeated stress in the neck.

Diagnosing a neck break

A broken neck can be diagnosed after an x-ray. The breaks in the neck are very high in the spinal cord, but if the rupture also damages your spinal cord, it can affect the entire lower part of your body, everything below the site of the rupture. Spinal cord injuries that result from a neck fracture can be diagnosed by:

  • Computed tomography

  • Magnetic resonance scan

  • Somatosensory evoked potential (SSEP), also called magnetic stimulation

How is a broken neck treated?

The treatment for a broken neck is directed by the severity of the rupture:

  • For a rupture that does not affect the spinal cord, a reinforcement for the simple neck and rest with some pain control is preferred.

  • If the rupture is more severe, surgery may be required to repair the bones and put them back in the correct place. A stronger collar will be used.

  • For breaks that also damage the spinal cord, options are very limited. Your spinal cord can not heal by itself and there are still no treatments available to repair the spinal cord.

How long does it take to recover?

A simple rupture that does not affect your spinal cord can be treated with a collar that is used for six to eight weeks until the bone heals.

More complicated breaks may require surgery and other treatments, such as a stiff neck brace for up to three months.

With breaks that also damage the spinal cord, recovery may not be possible. Bone can heal, but nerves in the spinal cord can be permanently damaged and cause lasting effects such as paralysis. Currently there is no treatment to repair the spinal cord, but according to the final Paralysis base, "... it seems that we could have been a little closer to achieving a certain level of recovery".

To take away

Broken necks can be simple breaks that can heal in a few weeks, or they can be life-altering injuries. Because of this, all neck breaks should be treated as medical emergencies.

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