Protecting Your Neck From a Cervical Fracture

A cervical fracture (also known as a broken neck,) is a serious affair. The good news is that taking cervical fracture precautions is largely a matter of making simple lifestyle changes. Here are 10 cervical fracture precautions you might consider turning into daily habits. 


Prevent Falls

Mature man doing tai chi
Mature man doing tai chi. Getty Images/RUTH JENKINSON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Falls are the leading cause of injury, including fractures, in people over 65, and the risk of falling increases as you age.
But by making a few simple changes in your lifestyle, you may be able to prevent falls. Here are a couple of (fairly) easy-to-implement tips:

  • Remove clutter and throw rugs so you don't trip on them.
  • Exercise regularly to develop your balance.
  • Studies have shown that tai chi can be effective in preventing falls in the elderly.
    In fact, a 2017 review and meta-analysis of medical research studies on the subject found Tai Chi to be an effective fall-preventing practice for seniors and the elderly. The authors of the review go on to say that the more you practice your tai chi, the more you'll (likely) be able to prevent falls.
    And they point out that the Yang tai chi style seems to be more effective for fall prevention than the Sun style.

Develop Your Bone Density

Most spine experts agree that osteoporosis raises your risk for microfractures in the cervical vertebrae. This is because osteoporotic bone tissue is fragile and easily broken.

Ways to build bone mineral density include getting enough vitamin D and calcium, as discussed below, and engaging in regular weight-bearing exercise sessions, such as strength training.

Your doctor may be able to prescribe a bone-building medication, such as Fosamax, as well.


Take Vitamin D With Calcium

The NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Disease National Resource Center say that vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium. Without enough of it, they say, you won't be able to form an important hormone called calcitriol, which is the substance responsible for calcium absorption, and therefore, strong bones. (When the body can't absorb the calcium you take via food and/or supplements, it will extract it from your bones, weakening them. Not something you need if you have or are trying to prevent osteopenia or osteoporosis.)

The Resource Center tells us there are three ways to get vitamin D:

  • Through the skin
  • From the diet
  • From supplements

Until the age of 70, it's recommended you get 600 IU of vitamin D per day. After that, the Center says to up your intake to 800 IU.

While many people successfully manage their vitamin D levels with supplements, don't forget that a long walk on a hot day (with minimal covering over your skin) and/or certain foods (egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and fortified milk top the list) can help boost your levels, as well. The Center quotes the Institute of Medicine in saying that the max vitamin D recommended is 4000 IU (unless your doctor prescribes more based on your individual condition.)

Don't Forget Your Calcium

The Center also has recommendations for how much calcium to take. For adults up to 50 years old, plus males up to 70, it's 1000 mg. For females, it's 1200 mg.
If you're pregnant or lactating, it's also 1000 mg except if you are between the ages of 14 and 18, in which case the recommended dose is 1300 mg.


Regularly Exercise Your Neck Muscles

Degenerative changes in the spine are inevitable for nearly everyone; this is because most of the time, they are age-related.

Degeneration may increase your risk for the type of neck fractures that cause myelopathy, which is a very serious and often painful condition in which the spinal cord becomes irritated and/or pressured. The spinal cord controls and/or influences many, many of the body's sensations and functions, so when it is disrupted, symptoms can be extremely challenging.

Developing strong, flexible neck and trunk muscles may help slow some of these arthritic changes in the neck.
To help maintain your neck health, consider engaging in and maintaining a regular strength and flexibility exercise routine for your neck, shoulders, upper back, and abdominal muscles. One or two visits with a licensed physical therapist can help get you started.


Fasten Your Seat Belt

Buckle up! We all know that "wearing seat belts saves lives." It may just protect you from damage to your neck, as well.

Motor vehicle accidents are associated with cervical spine injury according to a large 2012 study published in the journal Injury.

And in 2009, the Canadian C-Spine Rule Study Group looked at more than 17,000 patient records (during a six-year period) and found those not wearing seat belts during a car accident were much more likely to break one or more bones in their neck.


Mind Your Speed

The same Canadian C-Spine Rule Study Group mentioned above found that the faster a car was going when it crashed, the more likely the passengers were to sustain a neck fracture.


Wear a Helmet

If you love the feeling of the breeze whipping through your hair when you're on the road, you may or may not like what we're going to say.

Most people are aware that a good helmet worn correctly will likely protect from serious (or even fatal) head and/or facial injuries should the unthinkable happen while you're cycling. For this reason, helmets are a highly recommended preventative measure.

In fact, a 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Epidemology found that bicycle helmet use likely reduced cyclists' odds of sustaining fatal, serious and less serious head injury, plus facial injury. The study authors say that helmets had the most protective effect on serious and fatal head injuries.

But when it comes to preventing cervical spine injuries such as fractures, dislocation, etc, the research is not so clear. The same study mentioned above-found neck injury due to a cycling accident was rare and not associated with helmet use. 

The upshot of the research (in combination with common sense) is that while wearing a helmet might not keep you from breaking one or more bones in your neck, it is still an excellent idea.


Watch Your Water Depth

Diving headfirst into shallow water is a sure way to cause a serious neck fracture. The New York State Department of Health found that 90 percent of spinal cord injuries due to diving accidents were into bodies of water of six feet or less.

And if you are diving from a dock, the NY State Health Department quotes the Red Cross as saying the water should be at least nine feet deep. 


Don't Block or Hit With Your Head

Do you or a loved one play contact sports? If so (and although it may be tempting,) it's not a good idea to block or hit with the head, even if you wear a helmet. Doing so puts a lot of force on your neck, and the results in some cases may be catastrophic.

Although blocking or spearing with the head was prohibited in high school and college football decades ago, the practice continues anyway. If you play contact sports, be the smartie on your team and avoid using this potentially fatal technique.


Avoid Violence

Neck fractures can be caused by violence, much of which occurs in the home or between people who have an existing personal relationship. 

Violence affects people of all ages, from infants to the elderly.

If you need help with violence prevention (to reduce your risk for a neck fracture, as well as for other reasons,) check with local government or non-profit agencies that support victims of violence.

Also, groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and National Youth Violence Prevention may offer free programs to help your family overcome domestic violence.

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