Cervical Spine Trauma

The Chiro.Org Blog

Clinical Monograph 18

By R. C. Schafer, DC, PhD, FICC

As with most parts of the body, traumatic effects in the forearm or wrist may occur abruptly (eg, fracture, strain, sprain) or be the result of long-term microtrauma (eg, tunnel syndromes, arthritis, entrapment by scar tissue).

The cervical spine provides structural stability and support for the cranium, and a flexible and protective column for movement and balance adaptation, along with housing of the spinal cord and vertebral arteries. It also allows for directional orientation of the eyes and ears. Nowhere in the spine is the relationship between the osseous structures and the surrounding neurologic and vascular beds as intimate or subject to disturbance as it is in the cervical region.


Whether induced by trauma or not, cervical subluxation syndromes may be reflected in total body habitus. IVF insults, and the effects of articular fixations can manifest throughout the motor, sensory, and autonomic nervous systems. Many peripheral nerve symptoms in the shoulder, arm, and hand will find their origin in the cervical spine, as may numerous brainstem disorders.

Common Injuries and Disorders of the Cervical Spine

Cervical spine injuries can be classified as

(1)   mild   (eg, contusions, strains);

(2)   moderate   (eg, subluxations, sprains, occult fractures, nerve contusions, neurapraxias);

(3)   severe   (eg, axonotmesis, dislocation, stable fracture without neurologic deficit); and

(4)   dangerous   (eg, unstable fracture-dislocation, spinal cord or nerve root injury).

Spasm of the sternocleidomastoideus and trapezius can be due to strain or irritation of the sensory fibers of the spinal accessory nerves as they exit with the C2–C4 spinal nerves. The C1 and C2 nerves are especially vulnerable because they do not have the protection of an IVF. Radicular symptoms are rarely evident unless an IVD protrusion or rupture is present.


Because of its great mobility, relatively small structures, and weight-bearing role, the cervical spine is a frequent site of severe spinal nerve injury and subluxation/fixations. A large variety of cervical contusions, Grade 1–3 strains and sprains, subluxations, disc syndromes, dislocations, and fractures will be seen as the result of trauma.

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