Suffering a broken neck is one of the worst injuries that can befall any athlete or sportsman. The very name often used to mean any form of serious injury.
Technically, a broken neck refers to an injury in which any of the cervical vertebrae (the top 7 bones in the spinal column) are fractured or dislocated.
There are varying degrees of seriousness:
- If the vertebrae are broken or severely dislocated, but the spinal cord is not damaged, then no neurological problems will occur.
- If the spinal cord is bruised or partially damaged due to swelling or laceration, then quadriplegia or other neurological problems can occur.
- If the spinal cord is severely injured at or above the fifth cervical vertebra (C5), then breathing can be affected and the person may die from asphyxiation.
Reducing the risk of this injury comes from three routes:
- Rules changes in sports - many sports (e.g. American Football, Rugby, Ice Hockey) have introduced rule changes to reduce the risk of cervical injuries.
- Awareness - other sports, like trampolining or gymnastics, insists on spotters to reduce the risk of dangerous falls.
- Conditioning - athletes who are in good shape, and have strong muscles and good flexibility around their neck and shoulder area, are less likely to suffer these injuries.