A broken neck is a fracture of one of the 7 cervical vertebrae between the skull and the upper back and shoulders. A fracture to this area is a serious injury as the vertebrae protect the spinal cord which if damaged as a result can cause paralysis or even death.
The symptoms of a broken neck vary considerably from mild symptoms to being a fatal condition. The only consistent symptom is instant pain from a traumatic event and in some cases, this may not be a severe pain.
A broken neck is caused by a sudden force or impact on the head or neck. A common example is landing on the head. This doesn’t have to be from a great height, it may be from a rugby tackle or a dive into shallow water. Car accidents are another of the more common causes of a neck fracture.
The seriousness of the injury depends on a number of factors, including which part of the vertebrae is injured, how severe the fracture is, if there is a displaced piece of bone and how high up the spine the injury is located.
All neck injuries should be treated as a neck fracture until this can be ruled out. This basically means keeping the head and neck still to avoid movement of the fracture which could injure the spinal cord. This is achieved using a spinal board and collar.
If the spinal cord is damaged as a result of the fracture, then neurological symptoms occur. In many cases this is paralysis. Due to the high level of the injury, the patient with paralysis from a neck injury will not be able to move their arms or legs, this is known as quadriplegia. If damage occurs above the level of the fifth cervical vertebrae (C5) then other functions such as breathing may also be affected.