If I Break my Neck, will it Cause Paralysis?

Category: Neck Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: September 24, 2014

broken neckContinuing our recent series of blogs on spinal cord injuries (see our previous entries on SCI life expectancy and stem cell therapy), today’s installment is a response to a reader questions:

“If I break my neck, will I be paralyzed?”

That’s our topic for the day. In this post we will discuss what exactly it means to “break” your neck, and the prognosis for these types of spine injuries.

Breaking your Neck

The first thing we have to define is what exactly we mean when we say a person “broke their neck.” The word “break” in this context typically implies a broken bone (i.e. a broken arm or leg). Thus a broken neck generally means that the bones of the neck (the cervical vertebrae) are fractured. Broken vertebrae can result from car accident injuries, sports injuries, or slip and fall accidents – to name a few. Broken vertebrae are usually quite painful but can be effectively treated. It’s when the nerves are impacted that matters get more complicated.

Paralysis

Paralysis will only occur when the spinal nerves are damaged or severed. So the question of whether or not a broken neck will directly result in paralysis depends entirely on the nature of the “break.” If the break only damages the vertebrae, there will likely be no paralysis. However, if the break damages any nerves in the neck, paralysis is much more likely. The extent of the paralysis depends on the level of the injury and the extent of the nerve damage (see our blog on paraplegia vs. quadriplegia for more information on this).

A broken neck (or any broken bone for that matter) should be addressed immediately by a medical professional. Surgery may be necessary to remove any loose fragments of bone and prevent permanent nerve damage and paralysis.

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