Neck/spinal injury

Alternative names
Spinal/neck injury

Your spinal cord contains the nerves that carry messages between your brain and body. The cord passes through your neck and back. A spinal cord injury is very serious because it can cause paralysis below the site of the injury.


When someone has a spinal injury, additional movement may cause further damage to the nerves in the cord and can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

If you think someone could possibly have a spinal injury, DO NOT move the injured person even a little bit, unless it is absolutely necessary (like getting someone out of a burning car).

If you are in doubt about whether a person has a spinal injury, assume that he or she DOES have one.


  • Bullet or stab wound  
  • Direct trauma to the face, neck, head, or back (e.g., car accidents)  
  • Diving accident  
  • Electric shock  
  • Extreme twisting of the trunk  
  • Sports injury (landing on head)


  • Major blow to the head or chest, car accident, fall from a great height  
  • Head held in unusual position  
  • Numbness or tingling that radiates down an arm or leg  
  • Weakness  
  • Difficulty walking  
  • Paralysis of arms or legs  
  • No bladder or bowel control  
  • Shock (pale, clammy skin; bluish lips and fingernails; acting dazed or semi-conscious)  
  • Unconscious  
  • Stiff neck, headache, or neck pain

First Aid
The main goal is to keep the person immobile and safe until medical help arrives.

  1. You or someone else should call 911.
  2. Hold the person’s head and neck in the position in which they were found. DO NOT attempt to reposition the neck. Do not allow the neck to bend or twist.


  1. Check the person’s breathing and circulation. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.
  2. DO NOT tilt the head back when attempting to open the airway. Instead, place your fingers on the jaw on each side of the head. Lift the jaw forward.


Do not roll the person over unless the person is Vomiting or Choking on blood, or you need to check for breathing.

  1. Two people are needed.
  2. One person should be stationed at the head, the other at the person’s side.
  3. Keep the person’s head, neck, and back in line with each other while you roll him or her onto one side.

Do Not

  • DO NOT bend, twist, or lift the person’s head or body.  
  • DO NOT attempt to move the person before medical help arrives unless it is absolutely necessary.  
  • DO NOT remove a helmet if a spinal injury is suspected.

Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if

Call you local emergency number (such as 911) if there has been any injury that affects the neck or spinal cord. Keep the person absolutely immobile. Unless there is urgent danger, keep the person in the position where he or she was found.


  • Wear seat belts.  
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and driving.  
  • Avoid diving into pools, lakes, rivers and surf, particularly if you cannot determine the depth of the water, or if the water is not clear.  
  • Avoid motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.  
  • Avoid “spearing” (tackling or diving into a person with your head).


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.