A broken neck is one of the most dangerous injuries you can suffer. The spinal cord runs from your skull down your spine, and a broken neck can damage the spinal nerves or nerve roots.
You will need time to recover after breaking your neck. If your injury affects your nervous system, you may need weeks or even months of physical therapy. In a worst-case scenario, you may suffer permanent disabilities, including paralysis and loss of sensation below the level of the injury.
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What Is the Anatomy of Your Neck?
Your neck contains the cervical spine that sits between the base of your skull and the top of your ribcage. The cervical spine includes seven vertebrae from just under your skull to just above your chest. This column carries the weight of your head.
The spinal cord includes 31 pairs of spinal nerves that connect the brain to the body. At each vertebra, a pair of spinal nerves branches from the spinal cord into a pair of nerve roots.
In the neck, nerve roots control the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. They also control the chest muscles that allow you to breathe by expanding your chest. The spinal nerves that run to your abdomen, pelvis, and lower limbs pass through the neck but do not branch into nerve roots until lower in your spine.
What Can Cause Broken Neck Injuries?
A broken neck happens when you fracture at least one cervical vertebra. You can fracture a cervical vertebra in a few ways.
An impact to the neck can fracture a vertebra. This fracture can happen in a fall. For example, you fall backwards when your feet lose traction in a slip and fall accident. When your neck hits the ground, a vertebra may crack.
A cervical vertebra can fracture when the neck gets compressed. This injury often results from a hit to the top of the head. The compression force on the vertebrae can fracture one or more of them.
You have probably seen warnings about this type of injury more often than you realize. Shallow swimming pools have “no diving” signs to prevent swimmers from hitting their heads on the pool bottom and suffering this type of injury. Similarly, coaches warn football players to keep their heads up when hitting someone rather than leading with their helmets.
You can suffer a broken neck even without an impact on the head or spine. Rapid acceleration or deceleration can cause the head to whip forward or back with such force that a vertebra fractures. The tension in the ligaments connecting the vertebrae can cause fractures as the head whips forward and backward.
You can experience these whipping motions in a car accident. A collision causes your body to move forward and backward. When the seat or seat belt stops your upper body’s movement, your head keeps moving. The neck gets subjected to powerful forces as your eleven-pound head hyperextends and compresses the neck.
Assault can also cause violent whipping forces that can fracture the neck. When an assailant shakes you or strikes your head, the neck can experience violent forces that fracture vertebrae.
What Are the Potential Effects of Broken Neck Injuries?
The concern with all neck fractures is that the bone fragments produced by the injury will dislocate into the spinal canal. If these pieces sever the spinal cord, you could suffer quadriplegia — paralysis of all four limbs.
The type of vertebral fracture could determine what happens to the bone fragments. If you fracture the body of a vertebra, the strength and stability of the spinal column disappears. The weight of the head can cause fragments of the body to shift into the spinal canal.
The ligaments and tendons that hold the vertebrae in place attach to the thin processes extending from the body of the vertebra. If the process fractures, the vertebra is no longer anchored, and the entire vertebra can shift out of place, compressing or severing the spinal cord.
If the fractured vertebra damages the spinal cord, you could suffer from quadriplegia. This spinal cord injury can produce a range of injuries depending on the completeness and location of the injury.
Incomplete Vs. Complete Injuries
In a complete spinal cord injury, all the spinal nerves get severed. This type of injury produces total loss of sensation and movement in the body below the level of the injury.
An incomplete injury allows some signals to travel between the body and the brain. As a result, the victim retains some sensation and motor control below the injury.
But they might also experience:
- Loss of dexterity
- Loss of sensitivity to temperature, pressure, or texture
- Numbness or tingling
In some situations, the victim can regain some or all of the lost functionality. This results from neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to remap itself to use existing nerves to control areas served by damaged nerves.
Level of the Injury
The level of the injury will determine where the symptoms occur. Higher injuries produce effects in more areas of the body, while lower injuries produce fewer effects. For example, an injury below the C7 vertebra might leave the victim with at least some control of their shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers.
Can I Get Compensation For a Broken Neck?
You can usually seek personal injury compensation for a broken neck that resulted from someone else’s negligent or wrongful actions.
For injuries that result from any trauma other than a vehicle accident, you prove liability by showing that the other party acted in one of two ways:
- They failed to exercise reasonable care and, as a result, caused your injury
- They intended to make harmful contact with you
For injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents, you must first overcome the restrictions imposed by Florida’s no-fault insurance system. The no-fault laws block people injured in car accidents from pursuing a claim against the at-fault driver unless their losses exceed their no-fault policy limits or they suffer a significant, permanent injury.
Spinal cord injuries and nerve damage are permanent injuries because nerves cannot regenerate. As a result, Florida law will likely allow you to pursue a claim against the other driver if you can prove liability.
A broken neck can have catastrophic effects on your health and finances. Contact an experienced attorney at Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation to discuss your broken neck injury and the financial compensation you can seek for it at (305) 937-0191.