What is a neck injury?

A neck injury is any injury or trauma involving the neck. The neck is a vital anatomic crossroads and it consists of the cervical spine and spinal cord, nerves, intervertebral discs, muscles, ligaments, and tendons, in addition to the windpipe (trachea), esophagus, and blood vessels. Any of the neck tissues and organs can be affected by trauma. Because it is a relatively exposed and unprotected area of the body, the neck is particularly vulnerable to potentially serious injuries caused by blunt trauma, compression injury, and sudden extreme movement of the head due to hyperextension (severe bending back of the neck) and hyperflexion (severe bending forward of the neck).

Anyone can experience a neck injury, from infants to the elderly. Neck injury is very common. In fact, neck sprains and strains are the most frequently reported injuries in insurance claims in the United States (Source: IIHS).

Neck injuries may cause a variety of conditions, from minor neck discomfort to paralysis or death due to cervical vertebrae fracture (broken bone or bones in the neck) and injury to the spinal cord, which carries nerve impulses between the brain and the body. Injuries to the neck are often associated with head injuries and commonly caused by motor vehicle accidents, sports-associated trauma, falls from significant heights, diving into shallow water, violent assaults, and other types of trauma.

Common types of neck injury are neck sprains and strains (sometimes called whiplash). There are seven spinal column bones in the neck, called the cervical vertebrae, that are connected by ligaments. In a neck sprain, the ligaments are torn or stretched by a sudden and strong movement of the head. In a neck strain, the muscles of the neck are pulled or torn. Neck strains and sprains often heal on their own with rest, anti-inflammatory medications as prescribed, and massage or physical therapy. In some cases, a soft neck brace may be recommended for a short period of time.

Cervical fractures are caused by high-energy trauma, such as an injury incurred during a vigorous sport, a high-speed motor vehicle collision, or a fall from a significant height. Cervical fracture requires more comprehensive treatment, including traction and surgery.

Neck injuries can be serious and lead to serious or life-threatening complications, such as paralysis. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have been involved in an accident that can cause neck injury. In addition to neck pain, other serious symptoms that can occur with neck injury include a change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out,paralysis of any part of your body, profuse or uncontrollable bleeding, or difficulty breathing or swallowing.


What are the symptoms of a neck injury?

Symptoms of a neck injury vary in nature and severity due to the type of injury involved. Some symptoms are felt immediately, while others may appear and increase in intensity a day or more later. Symptoms can include:


What causes a neck injury?

A neck injury is typically the result of forceful physical trauma that affects the head or neck. Types of physical trauma that may injure the neck include:

  • Activity that results in landing on the head, such as diving into shallow water
  • Fall from a significant height
  • Gunshot injury
  • Motor vehicle accident

How is a neck injury treated?

Treatment for a neck injury varies widely depending on the type of trauma that caused the injury and the extent of the damage to the neck, head and spine. Different treatment techniques can be combined to alleviate symptoms and realign the spine.

Initial treatment of a neck injury or possible neck injury

Initial emergency treatment of a neck injury includes immobilizing... Read more about neck injurytreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Injuries and Wounds

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