Cervical Spine Fracture, Stable

ExitCare ImageA cervical spine fracture is a break or crack in one of the bones of the neck. A fracture is stable if the chances of it causing you problems while it is healing are very small.

CAUSES

  • Vehicle accidents.

  • Injuries from sports such as diving, football, biking, wrestling, or skiing.

  • Occasionally, severe osteoporosis or other bone diseases, such cancers that spread to bone or metabolic abnormalities.

SYMPTOMS

  • Severe neck pain after an accident or fall.

  • Pain down your shoulders or arms.

  • Bruising or swelling on the back of your neck.

  • Numbness, tingling, muscle spasm, or weakness.

DIAGNOSIS

Cervical spine fracture is diagnosed with the help of X-ray exams of your neck. Often a CT scan or MRI is used to confirm the diagnosis and help determine how your injury should be treated. Generally, an examination of your neck, arms and legs, and the history of your injury prompts the health care provider to order these tests.

TREATMENT

A stable fracture needs to be stabilized with a brace or cervical collar. A cervical collar is a two-piece collar designed to keep your neck from moving during the healing process.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Limit physical activity to prevent worsening of the fracture.

  • Apply ice to areas of pain 3–4 times a day for 2 days.

  • Put ice in a bag.

  • Place a towel between your skin and the bag.

  • Leave the ice on for 15–20 minutes, 3–4 times a day.

  • You may have been given a cervical collar to wear.

  • Do not remove the collar unless instructed by your health care provider.

  • If you have long hair, keep it outside of the collar.

  • Ask your health care provider before making any adjustments to your collar. Minor adjustments  may be required over time to improve comfort and reduce pressure on your chin or on back of your head.

  • Keep your collar clean by wiping it with mild soap and water and drying it completely. The pads can be hand washed with soap and water and air dried completely.

  • If you are allowed to remove the collar for cleaning or bathing, follow your health care provider's instructions on how to do so safely.

  • If you are allowed to remove the collar for cleaning and bathing, wash and dry the skin of your neck. Check your skin for irritation or sores. If you see any, tell your health care provider.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your health care provider.  

  • Keep all follow-up appointments as directed by your health care provider. Not keeping an appointment could result in a chronic or permanent injury, pain, and disability. Additionally, X-rays or an MRI may be repeated 1–3 weeks after your initial appointment. This is to:

  • Make sure any other breaks or cracks were not missed.  

  • Help identify stretched or torn ligaments.  

  • Get your test results if you did not get them when you were first evaluated. The results will determine whether you need other tests or treatment. It is your responsibility to get the results.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

You have irritation or sores on your skin from the cervical collar.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have increasing pain in your neck.  

  • You develop difficulties swallowing or breathing.

  • You develop swelling in your neck.  

  • You have numbness, weakness, burning pain, or movement problems in the arms or legs.  

  • You are unable to control your bowel or bladder (incontinence).  

  • You have problems with coordination or difficulty walking.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.