Cervical Spine Injury
What is the cervical spine?
The C-spine (C1-C7) supports the weight of the head. It runs from the base of your skull to the upper back. It consists of seven vertebrae which protect the spinal cord and nerves. There are disks between each vertebra. The bones of the spine are connected by many ligaments that provide support to the head and neck.
What is a cervical spine injury?
A cervical spine injury can happen when a great amount of force is placed against the spinal column. An injury can happen if the spinal column is not strong enough to stand up to that force. Injury can occur to the vertebrae, disks, or the cord. This can cause pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling. Symptoms vary in each person.
What are the types of cervical spine injuries?
- Bone fractures
- Ligament injuries
What tests will I need?
- X-rays are tests that look at the bones in your spine.
- A CT scan (Computed Tomography Scan) is a test that uses x-rays to obtain detailed pictures of bones and other tissues.
- An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a test that provides a detailed picture of ligaments, spinal cord, and nerves.
- A physical assessment will also check your cervical spine to see if there is pain when pressure is applied or with movement.
How is it treated?
If you have an injury, you will be seen by a spine specialist. First, the spine must be stabilized with a neck collar. The Philadelphia (Philly) collar, a rigid collar, is put in place right after any trauma. This collar may be changed to a PMT collar. Your doctors will decide whether or not surgery is needed. If you remain in a collar, you must wear it at all times. Your doctors will decide how long you must wear it. You will also have to wear the collar if a ligament injury is found. Sometimes, if the X-rays do not show damage, but you still have neck pain, you will go home in the collar. The X-rays will be repeated in the clinic in 2 weeks.
What should I expect while in the hospital?
- You will have to lie flat in bed to keep your spine aligned until a brace has been placed. This can be uncomfortable, but it is needed to protect your spine. In order to turn in bed, you must be rolled by the nursing staff. This is called “log rolling”. It allows you to be turned while keeping your spine aligned.
- You may not be able to eat anything until your doctor decides if you have a spine injury. This can take up to 24 hours for all the X-rays and consults to be done. The reason for this is to be prepared if you have to go to surgery. If surgery is needed, you will not be allowed to eat. We will be giving IV fluids to keep you hydrated.
- You will not be able to use a pillow. Using a pillow does not allow your spine to stay aligned. If you use a pillow, it can cause further damage.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 09/18/2012
Copyright © 09/18/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6906
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