A cervical fracture is a break of any of the cervical vertebrae, a set of seven bones located in the neck. The function of the cervical vertebrae is to provide support to the head and attach the head to the neck and shoulders. The spinal cord, a thick group of nerve tissues that runs from the bottom of the brain and down through the cervical vertebrae to the back, is the only way for the brain to be able to communicate and give signals to the rest of the body. Any break to the cervical vertebrae can cause injury to the spinal cord and may result in paralysis or even death in the most serious cases.
The cause of a cervical fracture is generally a form of high-impact trauma to the neck. One common cause of this kind of trauma is as a result of high-speed vehicle collisions, as well as falling and landing on the neck. Athletes tend to be at a higher risk of cervical fractures, either from falling, such as in the instance of gymnasts, or from high-impact contact with other opponents, such as with rugby, hockey, or American football.
After a cervical fracture occurs, a person may experience severe swelling or pain in his or her neck. He or she may also have difficulty moving his or her neck, or may not even be able to move it at all. In the more serious cases of cervical fractures, a person may not be able to feel his or her arms or legs, which may be a sign of injury to the spinal cord. Other serious symptoms include sudden changes in vision, such as blurriness or seeing double, or loss of consciousness.
Immediate treatment is essential in order to prevent serious complications, like paralysis or death. The exact treatment option will usually depend on which specific bones were fractured and the seriousness of the breaks. For less severe cases, a person may be required to wear a neck brace to keep the neck in place and allow the vertebrae to heal. Surgery is often the treatment option for more serious cervical fractures. Cervical vertebrae may be fastened back together with the use of pins and screws, or a piece of bone from another area of the body may be placed between the fractured vertebrae in order to replace the severely damaged vertebrae.