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Neck Injury

Neck Injury

Alternate Names

  • C-spine injury
  • neck fracture
  • neck strain
  • Site of neck X-ray
  • Neck X-ray


A neck injury is any injury to the soft tissue, bony, or nerve structures of the neck.


What are the causes and risks of the injury?

The most common causes of neck injuries are motor vehicle accidents. Other causes include:
  • recreational and sports activities, especially contact sports such as football
  • lifting and/or pulling a weight of any kind
  • bullet or stab wounds
  • direct trauma to the face
  • falling for any reason, particularly in the elderly


What can be done to prevent the injury?

While some neck injuries cannot be prevented, good safety techniques can minimize a person's risk. It is important to:
  • get regular exercise.
  • practice good posture and proper lifting techniques.
  • wear a seat belt and be sure the headrest is properly adjusted when in a moving vehicle.
  • avoid alcohol when driving.
  • avoid diving into lakes, rivers, and surf where depth is not known.
  • wear protective gear and take care during contact sports such as football.
  • follow sports safety guidelines for children, adolescents, and adults.
  • wear a helmet when riding bicycles, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.
When someone has a spinal injury, any motion of the neck could cause paralysis. It is important to seek medical help immediately, and to avoid moving the person.


How is the injury recognized?

The first step in diagnosing a neck injury is a complete history and physical examination. For diagnosing bony abnormalities, X-rays are normally used. A CAT scan may be used to rule out fractures. An MRI can also be used to diagnose injuries to the discs as well as injuries to the spinal cord.


What are the treatments for the injury?

If the injury is severe enough, emergent neurosurgery may be required. Stabilization of the neck is paramount regardless of the situation. Medications such as steroids may be given to reduce inflammation and spinal cord swelling. If the neck injury has involved the upper spinal cord, medical support such as a ventilator may be required to sustain life. Less severe injuries not involving the spinal cord may require physical therapy, pain control medications, and medications to control inflammation.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

The biggest risk in dealing with a person with a neck injury is worsening the injury. This can lead to permanent paralysis of one or both sides of the body.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the injury?

Severe neck injuries generally require aggressive neurosurgical treatment. Frequent evaluations will be needed over the next several months to years. If there is paralysis, lifelong treatment may be needed. Many people recover fully and have no long-lasting side effects from the injury. An individual who retains some function after the injury will usually benefit from physical therapy and occupational therapy.

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