What is a Cervical Fracture?
A cervical fracture is a break of one of the seven bones in the cervical spine (neck). These bones help support the head and connect it to the rest of the body. Most often, a cervical fracture occurs as a result of a severe trauma. This can be caused by a sports injury, fall, or vehicular accident. Cervical fractures not only happen during contact sports like football or wrestling, but also from a horseback riding fall, a skiing, surfing, or weight-lifting accident, or during diving. A cervical fracture is a serious injury because it may involve the spinal cord and can lead to a loss of sensation, paralysis or even death.
Cervical Fracture Symptoms
Typically, a patient who suffers a cervical fracture can experience intense pain in the neck, shoulders and down the arm. Bruising and swelling usually occur as well, ordinarily at the back of the neck. There may also be numbness at the site of the injury or down the arm. In severe cases, the patient may suffer paralysis. In order to avoid complications, it is important we immobilize the neck until Dr. Federico Giradi can diagnose the injury. The only exception to this is if we must move the patient for immediate survival.
Diagnosis of a Cervical Fracture
In addition to X-rays of the area to help determine the precise location and severity of the bone fracture, a CT or MRI scan is also necessary to determine whether there has been damage to the soft tissue as well. Treatment is predicated on the extent of the injury, if any, to the spinal cord, as well as on the nature of the cervical fracture.
Treating a Cervical Spine Fracture
Treatment for a cervical fracture depends on the severity of the break. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are helpful in relieving pain. If necessary, stronger pain medication will be prescribed. We can often treat minor fractures with a cervical collar (neck brace) that helps keep the bone in place while the injury heals. This usually takes about 6 weeks.
For more serious injuries, rigid braces, such as a Minerva cast, made of plaster of Paris, may be used for several months. Some cases may require traction. In the most severe situations, Dr. Giradi may require internal fixation to provide neck stability. This necessitates surgical intervention to fuse discs. Whatever treatment you require, we follow it up with a period of physical therapy to help increase comfort and range of motion.
Cervical Fracture Prevention
While you can not prevent all injuries, there are ways to minimize the risk of a cervical fracture. Wearing a seatbelt lessens the risk of cervical injury in a vehicular accident. Wearing protective gear during activities that involve the danger of bruising, physical contact, or falling also lessens the danger of cervical injury. Swimming and diving, which involve no protective gear, should always be engaged in with caution. Children engaging in such activities should always be well-supervised.