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Spargett's avatar

What's the difference between breaking your neck and paralyzing yourself and death?

Asked by Spargett (5348 points ) June 26th, 2008

What exactly is causing you to die instantly when you break your neck as opposed to just paralyzing you?

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8 Answers

iwamoto's avatar

my first guess would be the place of breakage, if it’s near the brainstem, you’re a goner, if it’s lower, I’m guessing you just tear apart nerves (which cause the paralysis) instead of the REALLY vital stuff…

but then again, I’m not a doctor

Randy's avatar

I think its the movement of the head after the break that causes the damage. I heard a story where some kids had a car accident and one survived. That is, untill he got out and shook his head which caused the slight fracture to break the spinal column in half. Supposedly, he dropped dead on the spot. I also think like iwamoto said, it depends on the location. Again though, I’m not a doctor so its just a guess.

MercenaryWriter's avatar

If the break is at the first or second cervical vertebra, you’re dead. If the break comes further down, you have the chance at continuing your life, such as it would be. Beyond that, the difference is the ability to donate organs without the act of removing them becoming a heinous offense, punishable by law.

Lightlyseared's avatar

luck. If you break your neck or back high enough then the nerves that control breathing are broken and you sufocate. Christopher Reeves was in this sort of position where he had to actively breath all the time or be ventilated.

charybdys's avatar

You can also break your neck and not be paralyzed at all. If you break your neck without damage to your spinal cord, you’ll be fine provided you get help, and you get moved correctly so further damage doesn’t occur. That’s why they have neck braces. Damage to the brain stem or severing your spinal cord stops you from breathing. It also stops regulating your heart. Its also possible to break your trachea, which stops you from breathing. Another injury is damage to your carotid arteries, which supply blood to your brain. That will cause you to black out and then die.

Lightlyseared's avatar

in a very large pool of blood.

scamp's avatar

My brother lived for 20 years after breaking his 3rd cervical vertebrae. Two days after the accident he stopped breathing on his own, and never took another un-assisted breath. Because of the ventilator he was on, he was also unable to speak. Christopher Reeves had what was called a “talking trach”, which is why he was able to speak. My brother died of sepsis from an infected bedsore, just as Christopher Reeves did a year after him.

jtorres's avatar

I broke my neck in an ATV accident in July of 2012. I actually broke the C1, C2, and C3 vertebrates. All of my doctors dubbed me “the miracle girl” as these types of breaks are usually fatal. I had surgery to fuse the C2 and C3 vertebrates and had to wear a hard collar for 3 months and then a soft collar for an additional 3 months. I also did 5 months of physical therapy, some acupuncture and some massage therapy. I have constant pain, though some days are definitely worse than others. I can’t be on my feet for longer than 45 minutes to an hour and I can’t sit up without full back and neck support (like in a recliner) for longer than an hour. I’m only 36 years old and I have 3 active sons. My life was dramatically changed in an instant but I’m immensely happy to still be alive!

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