Neck and Back Injuries

  • Medical Author: Scott H Plantz, MD, FAAEM
  • Medical Editor: Ivette Motola, MD
  • Medical Editor: Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
  • Medical Editor: James Kimo Takayesu, MD

Neck and Back Injuries Facts

  • Trauma to the neck and back can lead to spinal cord injury and permanent disability.
  • If trauma occurs, the neck and back should be splinted and movement should be avoided.
  • Accurately determining the cause and extent of the injury is important.
  • The vertebral column has many ligaments and muscles that protect the spinal cord and assist in movement.
  • Injury to any of these structures may cause significant and debilitating pain, even if a neck or back injury does not involve the nerves.

Neck and Back Injuries Symptoms

  • Someone with a neck or back injury may have localized pain, tenderness, and stiffness. Muscles on either side of the spinal column may spasm immediately after an injury or up to 24 hours later.
  • Numbness, tingling, or paralysis of an extremity indicates that a more serious injury may have occurred.
  • Any penetrating injury to the neck requires immediate treatment. Leave the object in place until medical personnel can remove it.

Neck and Back Injuries Treatment

  • Immobilize the head, neck, and back. Place soft packing on either side of the head to prevent side-to-side motion. Clothing or towels are handy for this purpose.
  • If the victim needs to vomit, roll the head, neck, and body as a unit so the person rests on his or her side (preferably, one person should control the head of the person with the injury while another person rolls the shoulders and hips).
  • Monitor the victim for loss of movement and development of numbness.
  • Move the person only when necessary to preserve life.
  • CPR may be required.

When to Seek Medical Care

  • Seek immediate medical treatment.

For More Information

MedlinePlus, Spinal/neck injury


Nearly everyone has low back pain at some time during their life. See Answer

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Medically reviewed by Aimee V. HachigianGould, MD; American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery


"Evaluation and acute management of cervical spinal column injuries in adults"

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