Cervical Spine Injury
What is the cervical spine?
The C-spine supports the weight of the head. It runs from the base of your skull to the upper
back. It consists of seven vertebrae (C1-C7) 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?
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
An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a test that
provides a detailed picture of ligaments, spinal cord, and
A physical assessment will also check your cervical spine
to see if there is pain when pressure is applied or with
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 completed. 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.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 11/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6906