Cervical Spine Injury

The pediatric orthopedic specialists with Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville (COOL), affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, are the foremost providers of pediatric orthopedic care in Louisville, Kentucky, and Southern Indiana. Our fellowship-trained pediatric orthopedic specialists provide specialized care for children and teens with cervical spine injuries.

What Is a Cervical Spine Injury?

A cervical spine injury is an injury to the upper portion of the spine, including the neck and just below the neck. The severity of the injury depends on which part of the seven cervical vertebrae was affected, from C3 to C7. Depending on where the injury is located, the following could happen:

  • If any of the upper cervical nerves and or the spinal cord is injured, a child can have paralysis in some or all of the breathing muscles and possibly the arms and legs.
  • If the lower cervical nerves and/or spinal cord is injured, a child can become paralyzed in the arms and legs and can have bowel and bladder dysfunction.

In general, a child’s spinal column is more elastic than an adult’s, providing extra protection from severe injury. However, a child usually reaches skeletal maturity at age 15 or 16. Teens and young adults between ages 16 to 24 have the highest rates of cervical spine injury, meaning that their injuries can mimic those of adults.

Cervical Spine Injury Causes

The most common cervical spine injuries happen due to:

  • Birth injuries
  • Car accidents
  • Diseases
  • Falls
  • Sports injuries and accidents
  • Violence

Other causes can include:

  • Angulation (severe bending) of the spinal column
  • Bending or buckling of ligaments
  • Compression due to a blood clot or fractured bone
  • Lack of blood flow

Cervical Spine Injury Treatment

Treatment plans for cervical spine injuries will be unique based on a child’s age, location of injury and current condition. Treatment options can include:

  • Complete spine immobilization with a rigid cervical collar
  • External bracing, such as a “halo” device that consists of a metal ring that fixes to the child’s skull and connects to a padded vest by bars
  • Medications that can help prevent further injury to the spinal cord
  • Surgical fusion that can join two or more vertebrae, with or without metal devices
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