More than Just a Pain in the Neck: The Dangers of Cervical Fractures

While watching the Winter Olympics, you might find yourself gasping in awe or cheering out loud. But you might also find yourself wincing and grimacing as the athletes take painful tumbles across the ice, slopes, and rinks.

One of these scary moments happened during the men’s quarterfinal race in snowboarding. On the final jump of the race, Markus Schairer, an athlete from Austria, fell through the air and landed on his neck and upper back, with an impact hard enough to knock his snow googles right off his face. The fall created a fracture in his fifth cervical vertebra, meaning that Schairer broke part of his neck . . . but miraculously, he was able to get back on his feet and finish the race. The Austrian Olympic Committee says that he will be transported back to Austria for medical attention, but did not sustain any permanent damage.

How do Cervical Fractures Occur?

Neck injuries are terrifying, often dangerous injuries. But as this accident shows, the severity of the injury often depends on the circumstances of the accident. The neck consists of seven vertebra, with the highest, C1, near the head, while the lowest, C7, is right before the spine. During an accident, like a fall or the impact from a car accident, any of these vertebra can sustain damage. When this happens, it is called a cervical fracture, or a broken neck. Even if only one vertebra is damaged, it can cause a life-threatening injury.

Cervical fractures can occur through a variety of activities and accidents, including:

  • Car and motorcycle accidents
  • Diving accidents, particularly when someone dives into water that is too shallow
  • Impacts during sports activities, particularly in contact sports like football, wrestling, and lacrosse
  • Slips, trips, or falls
  • Medical mistakes during surgery

The Dangers of Cervical Fractures

In Schairer’s accident, the injury was not severe enough to keep him on the ground for long. However, even less severe cervical fractures are likely to be incredibly painful, with symptoms like:

  • Tenderness or swelling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of feeling in hands or legs
  • Numbness, pain, or tingling at the base of the head
  • Double vision
  • Loss of consciousness

In the most severe cases, a broken neck can lead to paralysis or instant death. Injuries to the C1 through C4 vertebra are the most likely to cause paralysis, but even partial paralysis resulting from damage can lead to serious health complications, as well as lifestyle changes and massive medical expenses.

After an accident, neck injuries, like whiplash or sprains, are relatively common. However, due to the serious complications that can result from a cervical fracture, it is always important to talk to a doctor about neck pain following an accident, even if it seems minor. After his fall at the Olympics, Markus Schairer was able to get up and keep going, but for the rest of us who aren’t Olympics athletes, caution with neck injuries is always the best idea.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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