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Another important cause of cervical spine trauma is the ‘whiplash’ injury which occurs when the neck is rapidly extended and then flexed, typically in a road traffic accident when one vehicle is run into by another from behind. Ligament, bone, and muscle injuries, which may result in chronic pain, can occur, and anyone who has suffered a whiplash injury should be X-rayed.

Symptoms and diagnosis

– Pain is felt in the cervical region, especially during movements.
– Radiating pain occurs with numbness in the arms.
– There is impaired sensation in the skin below the level of the injury.
– Muscle weakness or paralysis may be present below the level of injury.


The athletic trainer or coach should:
– arrange transport of the injured athlete to hospital for examination;
– delegate further handling to expert staff if available.

The injured athlete needs to be placed carefully on a stretcher in such a way that the head and body are lifted simultaneously and the position of the cervical vertebrae is not disturbed. Clothing, cushions, or similar supports are placed on each side of the neck during the journey to hospital, to splint the neck and prevent further injury.

The doctor may carry out a careful examination of the nervous system, and arrange for an X-ray (and if needed an MRI or CT scan) of the cervical vertebral column in order to assess its stability and the extent of damage. Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may consist of use of a neck collar, traction, external fixation with a halo-west, or open surgery.

An unusual lifethreatening injury to the cervical vessels can occur in ice-hockey and other skating sports. An opponent’s skate may cut vessels in the anterior part of the neck. Lifethreatening bleeding can be prevented by wearing a protective neck collar.

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