A neck fracture can happen from a fall, a car wreck, or violence. If you're older or have weak bones from disease, even a sudden, hard twist can break your neck. However it happens, this kind of trauma is serious and scary. A neck fracture can paralyze you or even lead to death.
If you fracture your neck, you'll feel extreme pain, swelling, and a loss of feeling in your arms and legs. You shouldn't be moved, and you should go to the hospital right away.
The First Step After a Neck Fracture
After neck trauma, we want to keep the injury from getting worse. To prevent a spinal cord injury, we'll need to first:
- Keep you still (immobile)
- Stabilize your body
If the fracture has caused shock or obstructed your airway, we'll need to give you fluids or a breathing tube.
We're on the scene: You'll start getting treated right away by our experienced emergency team.
Injury Diagnosis & Evaluation
A series of imaging scans will help your care team know:
- How bad the fracture is
- Which neck bones have broken (you have 7 total)
- Which part of the bones are broken
- Whether there is temporary or permanent spinal cord or nerve injury
At UVA Health, you'll get fast, expert care in our Level 1 Trauma Center.
Neck Fracture Treatment Options
You can have different kinds of damage from a neck fracture. How you get treated depends on the details of your injury.
Neck Brace or Collar
If you only have a minor break, wearing a neck brace or collar for up to 8 weeks will help you heal. These devices keep your neck in line while it heals.
If you have a severe or unstable fracture, you might need traction. Traction allows for very little movement. You'll have to wear rigid braces or a halo vest to steady your spine. During this time, you won't be able to drive or do other activities. This treatment can take up to 12 weeks, while your fracture heals.
A lot of damage to your neck, spine, and the vertebrae may need surgery. Surgical procedures can:
- Reconnect pieces of bone and hold them in place
- Repair vertebrae on your spine
- Relieve pressure on your spinal cord
- Remove damaged vertebrae discs
Some surgeries may include using plates, screws, or wires. Our surgeons have experience finding the least painful and risky solution possible.
Spine Expertise When You Need it Most
A fracture in your neck is scary and serious. You want to get care from the best. At UVA, you'll find specialists committed to finding the least risky and painful method possible. You can trust their experience and compassion.
Overall recovery time depends on whether or not you have any permanent injuries. You may need to:
- Stay in the hospital while you heal
- Have a breathing tube to help you breathe
- Take medication for pain or infection
- Go to physical therapy and rehab
Physical therapy and rehab can last for months or years.
Long-term Rehab & Physical Therapy
A neck fracture can sometimes result in spinal cord and nerve injury and paralysis. This may require major life changes, involving work, family, and social life.
Your care team may include experts in: