Cervical Fracture

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:

  • A cervical fracture is a break in 1 or more of the 7 cervical vertebrae (bones) in your neck. Cervical vertebrae support your head and allow your neck to bend and twist. The vertebrae enclose and protect the spinal cord, which controls your ability to move. Cervical fractures can happen after injuring the neck in motor vehicle accidents, falls, diving, and contact sports. Because a cervical fracture can also harm the spinal cord, it can be a very serious injury.

CARE AGREEMENT:

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

RISKS:

  • Wearing a neck brace may lead to skin rashes, sores, and infections. You may have problems swallowing while wearing a halo brace. Halo brace pins can cause scars. Halo pins can puncture the covering of the brain. Halo pins and rods may loosen or break and harm your vertebra and surrounding areas. Traction may move your bones too far out of place. During surgery, you may bleed more than expected. Your brain and spinal cord may be damaged. This can cause paralysis and can be life-threatening.

  • After treatment, you may still have pain or problems turning your head. Your cervical fracture may not completely heal. You may get an infection. You may get a blood clot in your leg or arm. This can cause pain and swelling, and it can stop blood from flowing where it needs to go in your body. The blood clot can break loose and travel to your lungs. A blood clot in your lungs can cause chest pain and trouble breathing. These problems can be life-threatening.

WHILE YOU ARE HERE:

Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

A Foley catheter

is a tube put into your bladder to drain urine into a bag. Keep the bag below your waist. This will prevent urine from flowing back into your bladder and causing an infection or other problems. Also, keep the tube free of kinks so the urine will drain properly. Do not pull on the catheter. This can cause pain and bleeding, and may cause the catheter to come out. Caregivers will remove the catheter as soon as possible to help prevent infection.

Medicines:

  • Pain medicine: Caregivers may give you medicine to take away or decrease your pain.

    • Do not wait until the pain is severe to ask for your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease. The medicine may not work as well at controlling your pain if you wait too long to take it.

    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling a caregiver when you want to get out of bed or if you need help.

  • Blood thinners: This medicine helps prevent clots from forming in the blood. Clots can cause strokes, heart attacks, and death. Blood thinners make it more likely for you to bleed or bruise. Use an electric razor and soft toothbrush to help prevent bleeding.

Pressure stockings:

These are long, tight stockings that put pressure on your legs to promote blood flow and prevent clots. You may need to wear pressure stockings before or after surgery or if you have poor circulation (blood flow).

Pneumatic boots:

Inflatable boots are put on your legs. The boots are connected to an air pump. The pump tightens and loosens different areas of the boots. This helps improve blood flow to prevent clots.

Neurologic exam:

This is also called neuro signs, neuro checks, or neuro status. A neurologic exam can show caregivers how well your brain works after an injury or illness. Caregivers will check how your pupils (black dots in the center of each eye) react to light. They may check your memory and how easily you wake up. Your hand grasp and balance may also be tested.

Treatment:

  • Pain medicine: Caregivers may give you medicine to take away or decrease your pain.

    • Do not wait until the pain is severe to ask for your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease. The medicine may not work as well at controlling your pain if you wait too long to take it.

    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling a caregiver when you want to get out of bed or if you need help.

  • Traction: Traction uses weights to pull your bones back into place and to straighten the cervical spine.

  • Immobilization: Immobilization treatment keeps your head and neck from moving as your cervical fracture heals. You may have these or other kinds of immobilization:

    • Halo brace: A halo brace and vest prevent most head and neck movements. The halo brace is attached to your head with pins placed in your skull. It cannot be removed during treatment. Ask your caregiver for more information about halo brace placement and care.

    • Semirigid collar: Semirigid collars use plastic plates to stop side-to-side or up-and-down motion (such as nodding) in your neck. This kind of collar can be worn while bathing.

    • Soft collar: A soft collar is a flexible brace placed around the neck. It is often used after a more rigid collar has been worn.

  • Surgery: You may need surgery to repair your cervical fracture. You may also have surgery after immobilization if your fracture has not healed. During surgery, caregivers repair your fracture through an incision (cut) in the anterior (front) or posterior (back) of your neck. Ask your caregiver for more information about these and other types of surgery:

    • Internal fixation: The broken pieces of bone and ligaments are moved back to their correct places. Bone pieces and ligaments may be secured using screws, wires, or rods.

    • Anterior cervical discectomy: Your discs may have been damaged when your cervical vertebra broke. This surgery is done to remove one or more damaged discs in your neck.

    • Cervical fusion: During cervical fusion, a bone graft is placed between your vertebrae after a damaged disc is removed. A bone graft is a piece of bone taken from another area of your body. Over time, the vertebrae and the bone graft grow and fuse (lock) together.

  • Therapy: A physical therapist and an occupational therapist may exercise your arms, legs, and hands. They may also teach you new ways to do things around the house. A speech therapist may work with you to help you talk or swallow.

A ventilator

is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into your windpipe.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Cervical Fracture (Inpatient Care)

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