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Your spine stretches from the base of your skull to your tailbone. It's composed of 33 bones (vertebrae) that help support your body. These bones also protect your spinal cord, the important branch of your nervous system that carries messages from your brain to your body. A broken (fractured) bone in your neck or spine can be very serious. In some cases it can lead to paralysis or death. Emergency care is crucial.
A person with a neck or spine injury should not move or be moved. The person should lie still and wait for an emergency medical team. It can help for someone to gently support the person's head with both hands until help arrives. If a person is in danger and MUST be moved:
Place a blanket under the person and drag it along the ground.
If you don't have a blanket, grasp the person by the shoulders. Use your forearms to support his or her head. Then, pull the person to safety.
When a neck or spine injury is suspected, call for emergency help right away. Do not attempt to transport the victim yourself. Symptoms may include:
Severe back or neck pain
Bruising and swelling over the neck or back
Tingling or loss of feeling in the hands or feet
Loss of bowel or bladder function
Loss of feeling and movement below the level of injury
You will be examined and asked about your injury. For the exam, you may be placed on a spine board that prevents you from moving.
A collar may be placed around your neck.
Your neck and/or spine may be x-rayed.
A computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be done. These provide more detailed images of the structures in your neck and back.
Medication may be given to lessen pain.
The goal of treatment is to return your neck or spine to its normal position.
A minor neck fracture or simple spine fracture may be treated with a neck brace. You may wear the brace for 6 to 8 weeks until the bone heals. You may be asked to do certain exercises during healing.
Severe or complex fractures often need surgery. In that case, you will be referred to a bone specialist (orthopaedic surgeon) or nerve specialist (neurosurgeon).