First Aid for Neck/Spine Injury

Anything that puts too much pressure or force on the neck or back can result in a neck and/or spinal injury. Common causes are:

  • Accidents – with cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, toboggans, rollerblades, etc.
  • Falls – especially from high places
  • Diving mishaps – from diving into water that is too shallow
  • A hard blow to the neck or back while playing a contact sport such as football
  • Violent acts such as a gunshot wound that penetrates the head, neck or trunk

Suspect a neck injury, too, if a head injury has occurred.

Some neck and spinal injuries can be serious because they could result in paralysis. These need
emergency medical care. Others, such as whiplash, can be temporary, minor injuries.

A mild whiplash typically causes neck pain and stiffness the following day. Some people, though,
have trouble raising their heads off the pillow the next morning. Physical therapy and a collar to
support the neck are the most common types of treatment. It often takes three to four months for
all symptoms to disappear.

Prevention

  • Use padded headrests in your car to prevent whiplash.
  • Drive carefully and defensively.
  • Wear seatbelts, both lap belts and shoulder harnesses.
  • Buckle children into approved car seats appropriate for their age.
  • Wear a helmet whenever you ride a bicycle or motorcycle or when you roller skate or roller blade.
  • Wear the recommended safety equipment for contact sports.
  • Take care when jumping up and down on a trampoline, climbing a ladder or checking a roof.
  • Check the depth of the water before diving into it. Do not dive into water that is less that 9 feet deep. Never dive into an above-ground pool.

NOTE: IF YOU SUSPECT A NECK OR BACK INJURY IN YOU OR SOMEONE ELSE, YOU MUST KEEP THE NECK AND/OR BACK PERFECTLY STILL UNTIL AN EMERGENCY CREW ARRIVES. DO NOT MOVE SOMEONE WITH A SUSPECTED NECK OR SPINE INJURY UNLESS THE PERSON MUST BE MOVED BECAUSE HIS OR HER SAFETY IS IN DANGER. ANY MOVEMENT OF THE HEAD, NECK OR BACK COULD RESULT IN PARALYSIS OR DEATH. IMMOBILIZE THE NECK BY HOLDING THE HEAD, NECK AND SHOULDERS PERFECTLY STILL. USE BOTH HANDS, ONE ON EACH SIDE OF THE HEAD. 

Self-Care/First Aid

If you suspect a whiplash injury:

  • See your doctor as soon as you can so he or she can assess the extent of injury.
  • For the first 24 hours, apply ice packs to the injured area for up to 20 minutes an hour.
    • To make an ice pack, wrap ice in a face towel or cloth.
  • After 24 hours, use ice packs or heat to relieve the pain.
    • Taking a hot shower for 20 minutes a few times a day is a good source of heat to the neck.
    • Use a hot water bottle, heating pad (set on low), or heat lamp, directed to the neck for 10 minutes several times a day. (Use caution not to burn the skin.)
  • Use a cervical pillow or a small rolled towel positioned behind your neck instead of a regular pillow.
  • Wrap a folded towel around the neck to help hold the head in one position during the night.
  • If you arm or hand is numb, buy or rent a cervical-traction device. Ask your doctor how to use it.
  • Take aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium for minor pain.
    • Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication that has salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger unless a doctor tells you to.
  • Get plenty of rest.
American Institute for Preventive Medicine Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

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