Preventing a broken neck is largely a matter of taking certain safety precautions. You might not be able to feel the breeze through your hair when you ride your bike, but by putting on that helmet, you are on the road to avoiding a catastrophic neck injury. Here are 10 ways to prevent a broken neck.
1. Wear a Helmet
Wear a helmet when riding on a motorcycle or bike, or when playing contact sports. In some areas, this is the law. Helmets can absorb shock from a blow to the head, protecting you from both spinal fractures and traumatic brain injuries. Wearing one may spare you or your child from death or paralysis.
Falls are the leading cause of injury, including fractures, in people over 65. The risk of falling increases as you age. But by making a few simple changes in your lifestyle, you may be able to prevent falls. For example, remove clutter and throw rugs so you don't trip on them. Exercise regularly to develop your balance. Studies have shown that tai chi can be effective in preventing falls in the elderly.
3. Develop Your Bone Density
Spine experts agree that osteoporosis raises your risk for microfractures in the cervical vertebrae. This is because osteoporotic bone tissue is fragile and easily broken. Ways to build bone mineral density include taking vitamin D and calcium, as discussed below, and doing weight-bearing exercise, such as strength training. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a bone-building medication, such as Fosamax, as well.
4. Take Vitamin D with Calcium
Taking 800 IU of Vitamin D per day, in combination with 1200 mg of calcium, may reduce your risk of a fracture due to falling. This supplement combination may be effective at any age, according to research studies. Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
5. Strengthen Your Muscles
Degenerative changes in the spine are pretty much inevitable for all of us as we age. These changes increase the risk for the type of neck fractures that can cause myelopathy, a very painful condition. Developing strong, flexible neck and trunk muscles may help slow some of these arthritic changes in the neck. To help maintain your neck health, consider incorporating yoga, Pilates, or a therapeutic back exercise program into your daily routine.
6. Buckle Up
The Canadian C-Spine Rule Study Group looked at over 17,000 patients in a 6-year period and found that people not wearing seat belts during a car accident were three times more likely to break one or more bones in their neck.
7. Drive Slowly
The same study mentioned above found that the faster a car was going when it crashed, the more likely the passengers were to break their necks.
8. Don't Dive Head First Into Shallow Water
Diving head first into shallow water is a sure way to cause a serious neck fracture. The New York State Department of Health found that 90% of spinal cord injuries due to diving accidents were into bodies of water of 6 feet or less. If you are not using a diving board, the Red Cross says the water should be at least 9 feet deep. If you are diving from a board or participating in water sports, it should be even deeper -- read up on recommended water depths.
9. Don't Block or Hit with Your Head
Don't block or hit with your head when playing football or other contact sports, even if you wear a helmet. Doing so puts a lot of force on your neck, and the results can be catastrophic. Although blocking or spearing with the head was prohibited in high school and college football decades ago, the practice continues anyway. If you play contact sports, avoid using this potentially fatal technique.
10. Avoid Violence
Most neck fractures due to trauma occur because of violence. Violence affects people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. If you need help, check with local government or non-profit agencies that support victims of violence. Also, groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and National Youth Violence Prevention may offer free programs to help your family overcome domestic violence.