Cervical Neck Fractures Causes and Treatments

A fracture (break or crack) in one of the seven cervical vertebrae in your neck that support your head and connect it to the shoulders and body is called a cervical fracture or sometimes, a broken neck.

Doctor adjusting a woman's neck brace
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A broken neck is a big deal because it is the central nervous system's main, some may say only, connection between the brain and the body. It runs through the vertebrae. This is why an injury to the cervical vertebrae has serious consequences. In fact, any damage to the spinal cord can result in paralysis or death. Injury to the spinal cord at the level of the cervical spine can lead to temporary or permanent paralysis of the entire body from the neck down.


Cervical fractures are most often caused by a forceful impact or traumatic blow to the head.

Athletes involved in impact sports, or participating in sports such as skiing, diving, football, cycling that have a risk of falling or "snapping" the neck are all linked to neck fractures.

Immediate First Aid for Neck Injuries

It's best to assume there is a neck injury to anyone who has an impact, fall or collision-type of injury.

Conscious patients may or may not have severe neck pain. They may also have pain spreading from the neck to the shoulders or arms, resulting from the vertebra compressing a nerve. There may be some bruising and swelling at the back of the neck.

Any injury to the head or neck should be evaluated for a neck fracture. A cervical fracture is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Spine-related trauma may injure the spinal cord and could result in paralysis, so keeping the neck still is critical.

If there is any chance of a cervical fracture, the patient's neck should be immobilized (not moved) until medical attention arrives and X-rays can be taken. The physician will perform a complete neurological examination to assess nerve function and may request additional radiographic studies, such as MRI or computed tomography (CT), to determine the extent of the injuries.


The treatment of a cervical fracture depends upon which cervical vertebrae was damaged and the extent of the fracture. A minor (compression) fracture is often treated with a cervical collar or brace worn for six to eight weeks until the bone heals on its own.

A more severe or complex fracture may require traction, or surgical repair or a spinal fusion. Surgical repair of a cervical fracture can result in a long recovery time followed by physical therapy.


Luckily there are some simple things that you can do to prevent a broken neck. By simply wearing a seatbelt each time that you get into a car, or wearing proper protective sports equipment and following safety regulations, or never diving into a shallow pool area.

If you are a parent, make sure that you educating your children and their friends on protecting their neck and heads.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Schroeder GD, Vaccaro AR. Cervical Spine Injuries in the Athlete. Instr Course Lect. 2017;66:391-402.

  2. Zaveri G, Das G. Management of Sub-axial Cervical Spine Injuries. Indian J Orthop. 2017;51(6):633-652. doi:10.4103/ortho.IJOrtho_192_16

  3. Sgarlato A, Deroux SJ. Motor vehicle occupants, neck injuries, and seat belt utilization: a 5-year study of fatalities in New York City. J Forensic Sci. 2010;55(2):527-30. doi:10.1111/j.1556-4029.2009.01270.x

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Cervical Fracture. Patient Information.

By Elizabeth Quinn
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.