Neck Fracture | Cause & Symptoms | MedStar Health

Comprehensive care

At MedStar Health, our experienced spine doctors perform thousands of surgeries each year, including surgery for neck fractures. We pride ourselves on offering the least invasive surgical options to allow you to recover quickly from surgery and return to your regular life as soon as possible.

Our surgeons take the time to explain your unique condition and walk you through your treatment from beginning to end. Our spine specialists will always encourage non-surgical options when possible and recommend surgical options only when necessary.

What is a neck fracture?

Also known as a broken neck or a cervical fracture, it is a break in one or more of the bones found in the cervical (neck) portion of the spine. A fractured vertebra in the neck is a very serious condition which can result in paralysis and even death. It is important to seek medical help immediately when a neck fracture is suspected and to prevent any movement after the injury to stop further complications.

What are the causes?

Fractures are usually caused by severe trauma to the neck, which could include:

  • Fall from a height
  • Automobile accident
  • Sudden blow to the head or neck
  • Sudden twist of the neck
  • Jumping head-first into shallow water

What are the symptoms?

It is important to seek emergency medical help immediately if you experience a sudden blow or fall that involves the neck or spine and any of the following signs:

  • Neck pain, which will vary in severity
  • Numbness in the arms or legs
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paralysis of the arms or legs
  • Swelling
  • Bruising

How is it diagnosed?

At the first signs of a neck injury, it is important to see a specialist. At MedStar Health, our spine surgeons have years of experience diagnosing and treating these conditions. Your exam will likely include the following:

  • Medical history evaluation–Your doctor will ask you about your past medical conditions and how the injury occurred.
  • Physical exam–Your doctor will evaluate your neck, checking for signs of paralysis.
  • Imaging tests–Your orthopedist will conduct imaging studies, which may include X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans to analyze your bone injury and other internal structures.

What are the best treatment options?

There are a number of factors that will determine the treatment recommended by an orthopedic surgeon at MedStar Health, including the location and of the fracture and whether a spinal cord injury and/or paralysis has occurred.

Some treatment options for fractures that are not severe may include:

  • Neck brace
  • Physical therapy

However, when neck fractures are severe, they may require more advanced treatment, including anterior cervical discectomy and fusion.