Cervical vertebrae are bones found within the neck that are connected to one another via a series of ligaments and discs that give us the ability to move and twist our neck smoothly. However, when a trauma or injury occurs to these vertebrae, fractures can ensue. Usually, such a fracture is the result of a sudden impact to the area, such as accidents in which the individual lands on their head.
After such as accident or trauma, it’s possible that any vertebral bones within the cervical area may be damaged to the point that they’re compressing the spinal cord. And when the compression damages the spinal cord and the nerve fibers contained within, paralysis of any and all major muscle groups can develop. This paralysis may be localized to a specific part of the body or may affect the body as a whole, including the muscles that allow us to breathe properly.
However, not every trauma that occurs to the cervical vertebrae in the neck and results in a fracture may present symptoms. Indeed, sometimes a “broken neck” doesn’t show any signs at all, even if the trauma was severe. In fact signs and symptoms present themselves differently depending on which nerves have been affected by the injury, and any of those signs may be either temporary in nature or long-term and permanent.
Neck fractures are typically diagnosed by a physical examination combined with imaging technologies such as CT scans and MRIs. These image techniques give physicians a clear picture of any trauma incurred by the cervical vertebrae and the adjacent spinal cord and whether or not nerves have also damaged.
Treatment of a fracture of the neck depends critically on exactly which vertebra has been damaged. For instance, when it is determined that several fractures have occurred to multiple vertebrae, severe neurological problems may result and cause some form of paralysis. However, in the case of minor neck fractures, patients are often treated only with a cervical collar (neck brace) and are advised to limit the movement of the affected area.
Small and minor neck fractures usually heal within two months if the patient observes proper rest during the healing process. In the most serious of cervical vertebrae and spinal cord traumas when total paralysis results, patients may be confined to a wheelchair or bed for the duration of their lives.