A broken neck is when one of the seven bones in the neck (cervical vertebrae) is fractured, usually as a result of a high-impact accident. This type of injury is particularly serious because it can damage the spinal cord, causing paralysis.
A broken neck is usually the result of a high impact accident such as a car crash. It can also be caused by sport injuries, for example playing rugby; when a diver hits the bottom of a pool that is too shallow; or a gymnast misses a high bar and falls onto his/her neck.
If you are conscious when you break your neck, you may have severe neck pain and in some cases this can spread to your arms and shoulders (caused by the vertebrae pressing on a nerve). You may also have bruising and swelling. Immediately after an accident, your neck should be immobilised to prevent further injury until your condition has been diagnosed.
X-rays, along with tests for nerve function, MRI and/or CT scans to discover the extent of your injuries are usually used to help diagnose a broken neck.
This depends on which part of your neck has been broken and the kind of fracture: if it’s a less serious compression fracture, it may be able to be treated by wearing a neck brace or collar for around eight weeks until the bone has healed. However, if it’s a serious fracture, you may need to have traction, surgery and possibly up to three months wearing a neck cast.
Important: This information is only a guideline to help you understand your treatment and what to expect. Everyone is different and your rehabilitation may be quicker or slower than other people’s. Please contact us for advice if you’re worried about any aspect of your health or recovery.