Cervical spine fractures

Last revised by Yvette Mellam on 8 Sep 2022

Cervical spine fractures can occur secondary to exaggerated flexion or extension, or because of direct trauma or axial loading.


Males are affected more commonly than females with a median age of injury of 56 years. Falls, motor vehicle collisions, pedestrian accidents, cycling and diving are common causes of injury 6,7


Associated injuries are present in ~67% of patients 7:


The cervical spine is susceptible to injury because it is highly mobile with relatively small vertebral bodies and supports the head which is both heavy and acts as a lever. C2 (~30%) and C7 (~20%) are the most commonly fractured levels 7.

There are many types of cervical spine fracture, some of which are unstable; general indicators of instability include 9:


The fulcrum of movement is different in children than adults, C2/3 compared to C5/6, respectively; hence, in children, cervical fractures are more common in upper vertebrae. There are also other anatomical differences of the cervical spine between children and adults which are worth bearing in mind while interpreting pediatric studies. These include more horizontal orientation of the facet joints in children, underdeveloped uncovertebral joints, mild physiological anterior wedging of the vertebral bodies, and incomplete ossification of the odontoid process.


The four major mechanisms are flexion, extension, rotational and shearing, each associated with certain fracture patterns 3,4

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1: facet dislocation
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  • Case 1: facet dislocation
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  • Case 2: retropulsed fragment
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  • Case 3: Jefferson fracture
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  • Case 4: spinous process fractures
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  • Case 5: fracture dislocation C5-C6
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