When most people hear the phrase “broken neck” they assume the person is now going to be a quadriplegic for the rest of his or her life. In cases of traumatic injury, of course that can be the result. But a broken neck actually simply means the person has a fractured vertebra in their cervical spine. It doesn’t mean the spinal cord has been damaged or severed. The degree of injury can actually span the spectrum of severity from mild to fatal.
At Coastal Spine, our team helps patients deal with all kinds of chronic neck pain. Sometimes it is a result of nerve compression; other times it is indeed due to a broken neck.
What is a broken neck?
The actual definition of a “broken neck” is the fracture of one or more of the seven vertebrae that make up the cervical spine, the neck. Myriad things can cause these fractures: trauma, car accidents, falls, sports injuries, or osteoporosis.
This is the cause most people associate with broken necks — trauma. Whether a serious car wreck, a horseback riding accident, or a football collision, complex neck fractures require immediate medical attention. It’s important to not move the person, as this can make the injuries worse and increase the chances of paralysis. The person should be immobilized until they can receive medical attention.
When a person suffers from osteoporosis, the degenerative condition where their bones lose mass and density, they have a far greater risk for minor neck fractures. These types of broken necks are directly related to the amount of bone loss the patient has suffered. Almost any type of movement can cause these breaks, which are tiny and are also known as microfractures. Something as innocent as a sneeze can fracture a vertebra.
You can prevent neck fractures
For those with osteoporosis, lifestyle changes are necessary to prevent more fractures in the future. Adopting a regimen of weight-bearing exercise is important. So is the daily intake of calcium and vitamin D. Bone-building medication may be possible.
As for trauma, obviously avoiding contact sports such as tackle football would be helpful. But if you’re a player and seek to continue to play, you must think of the position of your neck and head when you tackle. Not leading with the crown of your helmet is the most important preventive action you can make. Otherwise, wearing seatbelts or other safety measures such as wearing bike helmets all fall under the old “an ounce of prevention” adage.
If you have chronic neck pain, that can be a sign of many different problems with your cervical spine and the discs. Please call us at Coastal Spine at (856) 222-4444 to schedule an appointment at any of our four locations across New Jersey, and let’s see how we can help.