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Cervical Fracture

AMBULATORY CARE:

A cervical fracture

is a break in a vertebra (bone) in your neck. The 7 cervical vertebrae are called C1 through C7. Cervical vertebrae support your head and allow your neck to bend and twist. The vertebrae enclose and protect the spinal cord. Nerves in the spinal cord control your ability to move.

Spinal Cord Injury

Common signs and symptoms:

  • Pain, tenderness, swelling, or muscle spasms in your neck
  • Not being able to turn or twist your neck freely
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Loss of feeling or pinprick pain in your arms or legs
  • Numbness, pain, or tingling at the base of your head
  • Double vision or loss of consciousness

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone else call if:

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, or have chest pain.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You cannot feel or move your arms or legs.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have a sudden, severe headache with nausea and vomiting.
  • You are seeing double or suddenly cannot see.
  • You cannot stay awake.
  • The pins in your halo brace have loosened or look deeper in the skin than before.
  • You feel new weakness or numbness in your hands or fingers.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

Call your doctor or neurologist if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You see a skin rash, redness, or sores under your brace.
  • You have problems swallowing while you are wearing your halo brace.
  • Your neck pain is not getting better even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your cervical fracture, medicine, or care.

Treatment

may include any of the following:

  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Immobilization is used to keep your head and neck from moving as your cervical fracture heals. You may need the following:
    • 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 will not be removed while you are getting treatment.
    • A semirigid collar uses plastic plates to stop side-to-side or up-and-down motion in your neck.
    • A soft collar is a flexible brace placed around the neck. It is often used after a more rigid collar.
      Cervical Collars
  • Surgery may be needed to repair the fracture. You may also have surgery after immobilization if your fracture has not healed.

Therapy

may be recommended. 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.

Skin and brace care:

Skin breakdown can lead to deep wounds caused by pressure or pulling on your skin. Check your chin, ears, back of your head, and shoulders for redness or sores if you are wearing a brace. Check the skin daily around halo brace pins for signs of infection, such as redness or bad-smelling drainage. Change your vest lining if it gets wet. Ask your healthcare provider how to care for your halo pins and vest. Ask your provider for more information about using a halo brace, semirigid collar, or soft collar.

Follow up with your doctor or neurologist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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 (Ambulatory Care)

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.