Dislocated Vertebrae

Dislocated Vertebrae

A dislocated vertebrae is a displacement of one of the small bones in the neck (which form the spine) in relation to the others. This occurs following a traumatic injury of the head or neck.

Symptoms of a Dislocated Vertebra

  • Sudden pain in the neck caused by an acute injury or force.
  • Pain may also spread into the shoulder and arm.
  • Tenderness to touch the neck.
  • Neural symptoms such as tingling or numbness in the arm.
  • Muscle spasm in the neck.
  • Weakness in the arms may be present.
  • Deformity may be visible.


Cervical vertebrae dislocation is usually caused by a traumatic injury to the head or neck as may occur in a fall or road traffic accident. Common mechanisms include axial loading (twisting under lad) of the head, or extreme neck extension, flexion or rotation.

This injury is also often combined with a fractured vertebra.

Dislocations may be classed as either stable or unstable depending on the damage to the soft tissues surrounding the joint, especially the spinal ligaments. In some cases with little to no ligament damage, the vertebrae may reduce itself (i.e. move back into place) before assessment. This can make the condition difficult to diagnose.

As with any spinal injury, the worst case scenario is that the dislocation causes damage to the spinal cord. In this case, quadriplegia or even fatality are possible outcomes.


  • If any spinal injury is suspected DO NOT attempt to move the patient.
  • Call for immediate medical attention.
  • Once at the hospital the patient undergoes a thorough examination and scans including X-rays to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Further tests such as MRI, CT scans, and nerve conduction tests may be performed to determine the extent of soft tissue and nerve damage.
  • Provided there are no fractures, the vertebrae can often be reduced (put back in place) by closed manipulation under traction. This means the doctor will manipulate the neck to move the bone back into position.
  • Surgery may be required when closed manipulations are not successful, or in more severe cases involving fractures, disc herniations or considerable neurological symptoms.
  • To maintain stability, the bones may be fixed with wires or pins to hold the vertebrae in place.
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