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How To Provide First Aid for a Suspected Cervical Spine Injury

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Updated January 24, 2014

The spine bones of the neck, the cervical vertebrae, may be fractured or displaced if the neck is twisted, compressed, or hyper-extended. A fracture (break) or displacement of the cervical spine (C-spine) can cut or press on the spinal cord.

Always suspect a C-spine injury if there is neck pain after significant injury.

  • vehicle or bicycle accidents
  • sports injuries
  • falls
  • assaults
When in doubt, consider the cervical spine injured until evaluated by medical personnel.

 

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: n/a

Here's How:

  1. Safety First! Make sure the environment is safe for both rescuer and victim before providing any first aid. Always practice universal precautions and use personal protective equipment whenever you may come in contact with blood or body fluids.

     

  2. Make sure the victim is breathing. Breathing is more important than immobilizing the cervical spine.

     

  3. All suspected cervical spine injuries must be assessed by x-ray. Call 911 to summon an ambulance. Make sure you know the differences between mobile phones and regular phones before calling 911 on a cell phone.

     

  4. If the victim is unconscious, protect the airway by placing the victim in the recovery position. Place padding under the head to help keep the neck straight.

     

  5. If the victim is awake, place both hands on either side of the victim's head to steady it. Hold the victim's head gently but firmly to keep it from moving. Any movement of the cervical spine may make a C-spine injury worse. Only release the head to help with the victim's airway, breathing or circulation, or if the scene becomes unsafe.

     

  6. Continue to immobilize the victim's head until medical help arrives and remind the victim not to move.

Tips:

  1. Statistically, C-spine injuries are very rare. Don't commit yourself to immobilizing the cervical spine if the victim needs other first aid.
  2. If more than one rescuer is available, use the two person technique to roll the victim into the recovery position.
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  6. How To Provide First Aid for a Suspected Cervical Spine Injury

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