What is a neck injury?
A neck injury is any injury or trauma involving the neck. The neck 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.
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, physical fights, 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:
Symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition
- Bleeding from the neck or other area of the body
- Decreased range of motion in the neck
- Fatigue, weakness, or difficulty concentrating
- Neck bruising
- Neck pain that may worsen with movement
- Pain, tingling or weakness in the neck that spreads to the shoulders or arms
- Sleep disturbances
- Sore throat
In some cases, a neck injury may cause a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have neck pain after an injury or trauma or any of these symptoms:
How is a neck injury treated?
- Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out (even briefly) or unresponsiveness
- Clammy, pale skin
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Paralysis or inability to move any part of the body
- Profuse or uncontrollable bleeding
- Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking
- Severe headache
- Swelling or deformity of the neck or head
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 the entire spine with specialized equipment, including a rigid neck collar and backboard. This is called spinal immobilization, which stabilizes any possible vertebra fractures and prevents further damage to the neck bones or spinal cord. Spinal immobilization is maintained until a person is fully medically evaluated and X-rays and other tests and assessment are made to rule out a neck fracture or other serious injury.
Treatment of neck fractures
Treatment of a cervical fracture (neck fracture) varies depending on the exact type of fracture, the extent and type of fracture that occurs in the bone, and other factors, such as if a dislocation has also occurred. Treatment can include:
Long-term spinal immobilization with a variety of devices, such a skeletal halo traction system, until the bones have healed and become stable
Rigid neck collar or brace
Surgical treatment, such as fusing unstable cervical bones with rods, screws or plates
Treatment for neck sprains and strains
Treatment of neck sprains and strains may include:
What is a head injury?
- Massage therapy
- Pain medications and muscle relaxers
- Physical therapy
- Soft neck collar for short-term use
Head injuries are one of the most common causes of disability and death in adults. The injury can be as mild as a bump, bruise (contusion), or cut on the head, or can be moderate to severe in nature due to a concussion, deep cut or open wound, fractured skull bone(s), or from internal bleeding and damage to the brain.
A head injury is a broad term that describes a vast array of injuries that occur to the scalp, skull, brain, and underlying tissue and blood vessels in the head. Head injuries are also commonly referred to as brain injury, or traumatic brain injury (TBI), depending on the extent of the head trauma.
What are the different types of head injury?
The following are some of the different types of head injuries:
A concussion is an injury to the head area that may cause instant loss of awareness or alertness for a few minutes up to a few hours after the traumatic event.
A skull fracture is a break in the skull bone. There are four major types of skull fractures, including the following:
This is the most common type of skull fracture. In a linear fracture, there is a break in the bone, but it does not move the bone. These patients may be observed in the hospital for a brief amount of time, and can usually resume normal activities in a few days. Usually, no interventions are necessary.
- Depressed Skull Fractures
This type of fracture may be seen with or without a cut in the scalp. In this fracture, part of the skull is actually sunken in from the trauma. This type of skull fracture may require surgical intervention, depending on the severity, to help correct the deformity.
- Diastatic Skull Fractures
These are fractures that occur along the suture lines in the skull. The sutures are the areas between the bones in the head that fuse when we are children. In this type of fracture, the normal suture lines are widened. These fractures are more often seen in newborns and older infants.
This is the most serious type of skull fracture, and involves a break in the bone at the base of the skull. Patients with this type of fracture frequently have bruises around their eyes and a bruise behind their ear. They may also have clear fluid draining from their nose or ears due to a tear in part of the covering of the brain. These patients usually require close observation in the hospital.
- Intracranial Hematoma (ICH)
There are several types of ICH, or blood clots, in or around the brain. The different types are classified by their location in the brain. These can range from mild head injuries to quite serious and potentially life-threatening injuries. The different types of ICH include the following:
Epidural hematomas occur when a blood clot forms underneath the skull, but on top of the dura, the tough covering that surrounds the brain. They usually come from a tear in an artery that runs just under the skull called the middle meningeal artery. Epidural hematomas are usually associated with a skull fracture.
Subdural hematomas occur when a blood clot forms underneath the skull and underneath the dura, but outside of the brain. These can form from a tear in the veins that go from the brain to the dura, or from a cut on the brain itself. They are sometimes, but not always, associated with a skull fracture.
contusion or intracerebral hematoma
A contusion is a bruise to the brain itself. A contusion causes bleeding and swelling inside of the brain around the area where the head was struck. Contusions may occur with skull fractures or other blood clots such as a subdural or epidural hematoma.
- Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI)
These injuries are fairly common and are usually caused by shaking of the brain back and forth, which can happen in car accidents, from falls or shaken baby syndrome. Diffuse injuries can be mild, such as with a concussion, or may be very severe, as in diffuse axonal injury (DAI). In DAI, the patient is usually in a coma for a prolonged period of time, with injury to many different parts of the brain.
What are the symptoms of a head injury?
The person may have varying degrees of symptoms associated with the severity of the head injury. The following are the most common symptoms of a head injury. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Mild Head Injury:
Moderate to Severe Head Injury (requires immediate medical attention) - symptoms may include any of the above plus:
- raised, swollen area from a bump or a bruise
- small, superficial (shallow) cut in the scalp
- sensitivity to noise and light
- lightheadedness and/or dizziness
- problems with balance
- roblems with memory and/or concentration
- change in sleep patterns
- blurred vision
- "tired" eyes
- ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- alteration in taste
- loss of consciousness
- severe headache that does not go away
- repeated nausea and vomiting
- loss of short-term memory, such as difficulty remembering the events that led right up to and through the traumatic event
- slurred speech
- difficulty with walking
- weakness in one side or area of the body
- pale skin color
- seizures or convulsions
- behavior changes including irritability
- blood or clear fluid draining from the ears or nose
- one pupil (dark area in the center of the eye) looks larger than the other eye
- deep cut or laceration in the scalp
- open wound in the head
- foreign object penetrating the head
- coma (a state of unconsciousness from which a person cannot be awakened; responds only minimally, if at all, to stimuli; and exhibits no voluntary activities)
- vegetative state (a condition of brain damage in which a person has lost his thinking abilities and awareness of his surroundings, but retains some basic functions such as breathing and blood circulation)
- locked-in syndrome (a neurological condition in which a person is conscious and can think and reason, but cannot speak or move)
The symptoms of a head injury may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.