Cervical Fractures: Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery
There are seven bones in your neck that connect to form the cervical region of the spine. Fractures are one of the most common ailments when the area faces trauma. A fracture occurs when one of the bones (C1-C7 vertebrae) breaks. Seeking immediate treatment is pivotal if you have a cervical fracture. While recovery is possible for this particular fracture, letting the issue dwell can lead to paralysis and even death.
What Causes Cervical Fractures?
Cervical fractures are usually the result of high-impact accidents and emergencies. Blunt trauma and whiplash are among the top causes of cervical fractures.
A few other situations where a cervical fracture may occur:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Roadside accidents
- Physical altercations
- Sports injuries
Motor accidents account for 29% of all cervical fracture cases, while falls cause 23%. Elderly individuals may suffer from a fracture due to a ground-level fall.
Cervical Fracture Risk Factors
Anyone at any age can feasibly experience a cervical fracture, as they often occur in automobile accidents or unpredictable life events. However, there are a few factors that may increase vulnerability to cervical damage, such as:
- Old age
- Previous or co-morbid pelvic fracture
- Motor vehicle collision (roadside)
- Nontraffic motorized vehicle collisions
Research suggests that there is a male predominance in cervical fractures. Individuals aged 16 to 40 years are more prone to motor accidents and cervical spine injuries.
Symptoms of Cervical Fractures
Cervical fracture symptoms vary between individuals, depending on the severity of the fracture and the specific situation that caused the injury. Most individuals with a cervical fracture experience bruising, tenderness (the area hurts when touched), swelling, concentrated pain, nerve discomfort that may radiate through the arms, reduced range of movement, and muscle weakness in the neck.
How Are Cervical Fractures Diagnosed?
Cervical fractures usually require an X-Ray, MRI, or CT scan. The results will reveal the specific location of the fracture so the physician can assign it to a level – C1, C2, or C3.
Following the imaging examination, the physician will likely perform a physical exam to analyze the fracture at a surface level. Physical examinations can help reveal bruising, swelling, and bone dislocation.
Treatment for Cervical Fractures
Cervical spine fractures can have devastating consequences and need prompt treatment. Dealing with cervical fractures is tricky as the region carries numerous critical structures. The most crucial aspect of treating cervical fractures is emergency management. Neck fractures can quickly become worse if mishandled. If an individual breaks their cervical spine in an accident, the first treatment step is stabilizing the patient and immobilizing the neck with a brace and stretcher. After the initial trauma, a physician will choose a treatment plan depending on the patient’s need. There are non-surgical and surgical treatments available for neck fractures that vary depending on severity.
Non-Surgical (Conservative) Management
Treating a minor compression fracture typically involves wearing a soft padded neck collar for about eight weeks. The neck brace keeps the bones in the anatomical position for appropriate healing. However, patients with moderate to severe cases might have to wear a rigid brace. A stiff brace applies traction and keeps the neck from moving out of place. One of the most common braces for a moderate injury is halo vests, which immobilize the upper body and create a halo around the head.
Severe and potentially life-threatening fractures may require surgery. Cervical fracture surgeries repair the fracture site and return vertebrae to customary positions. The surgeon may place screws and plates along the spine to prevent them from moving in the future.
Cervical Fracture Recovery Time
Recovering from a fracture can be a lengthy process. Most individuals must wear a neck brace for a minimum of eight weeks for mild fractures or 12 weeks for severe injuries requiring a traction vest. Some patients may resume light work four to six weeks after surgery, but recovery time varies per patient.
It generally takes a couple of months (or even more) to complete recovery and return to usual activities, followed by regular physical therapy. Elderly individuals or immunocompromised patients may take longer to recover than young-to-middle-age and otherwise healthy adults.
How Can I Prevent Cervical Fractures?
Sometimes preventing a cervical fracture is impossible if the injury occurs during an auto accident or unanticipated emergency. However, individuals can lessen their chances of getting a cervical fracture during one of those situations by taking a few simple measures:
- Wear a seat-belt while driving or traveling in a motor vehicle
- Wear neck-protective gear when participating in vigorous sports activities
- Avoid diving in shallow pools
For elderly individuals prone to falling, placing anti-slip mats/rugs in wet places (toilets and bathrooms) can reduce the risk of cervical fractures due to falls.
Expert Neck and Back Care At Raleigh Orthopaedic
Receiving prompt medical care after a cervical fracture is essential for a full recovery. Injury to the spinal cord can lead to paralysis or become fatal.
Our orthopaedic specialists and surgeons at Raleigh Orthopaedic possess the training and experience needed to diagnose and treat cervical spine injuries – and the high-quality and technologically advanced facility provides the highest level of comprehensive care for neck fractures.
Don’t let fracture symptoms worsen. Schedule an appointment at one of our six Wake County locations.