Cervical Spine Dislocations: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

A cervical spine dislocation is an injury to the cervical spine that causes the vertebrae to move from their normal location. In this lesson, learn about the symptoms and treatments for this type of injury.

Cervical Spine Dislocation

Gloria is an 83 year-old retired school teacher who lives by herself in the same house she has lived in for the past 50 years. One day, as Gloria was taking a shower, she accidentally slipped and fell hard on the shower floor, hitting her head on the wall as she fell. Unfortunately, since she lived alone, nobody was there to hear her as she called for help.

Luckily, her son came by her house about 15 minutes after she fell to drop off some food that his wife made for Gloria. Gloria heard her son come into the house and called for him. He quickly ran to the bathroom to find his mom on the shower floor. Gloria told her son that she had slipped in the shower, hit her head on the wall, and her neck and shoulder were in a lot of pain. He quickly called 911 and told his mom not to move.

Once the ambulance got to Gloria's house, the paramedics carefully put a brace on her neck, put her on a gurney, and wheeled her out of her house and drove her to the hospital. At the hospital, the doctors took Gloria through a lot of tests, including x-raying her head and neck. After analyzing the test results, the doctors informed Gloria that she had a cervical spine dislocation.

A cervical spine dislocation is an injury to the cervical spine that causes the vertebrae to move from their normal locations. The cervical spine refers to the vertebrae in the neck. These types of injuries are most often caused by car accidents, sports collisions, and falls like the one Gloria sustained.

The cervical spine refers to the vertebrae of the neck.
cervical spine

Cervical Spine Dislocation: Symptoms

Symptoms of cervical spine dislocations include:

  • Intense pain in the neck
  • Pain that radiates down to the shoulders and arms
  • Numbness and tingling in the upper extremities
  • Weakness in the upper extremities
  • Stiffness in the upper extremities

Injuries involving the cervical spine can impact the upper extremities because the nerves in the neck control the muscles in the upper extremities. Therefore, damage to the nerves in the neck can cause weakness, stiffness, and numbness in the shoulders, arms, and hands.

The cervical nerves (C2-C8) control the upper extremities. Therefore, injuries to the cervical spine can impact the upper extremities as well.

Cervical Spine Dislocations: Treatment

It is very important not to move anyone who has suffered a neck injury. Moving them may cause further damage to the neck, possibly resulting in paralysis. Therefore, let the person remain where they are until medical professionals arrive. Gloria's son did a great job of not moving Gloria after she suffered her neck injury.

Once the medical professionals arrive, they will usually put a neck brace on the injured person to help immobilize the neck, preventing the neck from moving and causing more damage. In the hospital, the neck will be evaluated using x-rays, MRI's, and CT scans. Most cervical spine dislocations that do not involve any fractures are put back into their normal positions by a physician using his hands, a process called a closed reduction.

If the vertebra cannot be put back into place with a closed reduction, then surgery is often required to repair the dislocation. Surgical repair to put back dislocated bones is called an open reduction since the body is opened up by surgical incisions to get to the bones. Once the vertebrae are reduced back to their normal positions in the neck, metal pins and wires are often inserted into the vertebra to secure them into place and prevent them from moving or shifting.

If the cervical spine dislocation resulted in weakness or stiffness in the neck or upper extremities, physical therapy is usually recommended. Physical therapy will include exercises and stretches designed to help the neck and upper extremities regain their strength and range of motion.

Physical therapy includes exercises and stretches to increase strength and range of motion in the upper extremities.
physical therapy

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