The neck is a complex part of the human anatomy. In addition to supporting the head, it serves as a conduit of blood flow and nerve impulses between the brain and the rest of the body. In spite of this essential function, it’s highly vulnerable to injury, particularly the carotid and vertebral arteries. The carotid artery is close to the surface of the neck and can be injured by blunt trauma. Both the carotid and vertebral arteries can be injured by rapid or violent motions of the neck or when they are hyper extended.

A highly dangerous injury occurs when a tear inside the wall of an artery allows blood to leak between wall layers. This leads to blood clot formation, which can cause a stroke by blocking off blood flow to the brain or breaking off and becoming lodged within the brain. Strokes cause brain cell death and, depending on the affected area of the brain, can be fatal.

Causes of Neck Artery Dissection

  • Traffic accidents. The tremendous G forces exerted on the head during collisions often cause violent motions to the neck. The resulting injury is often a non-fatal whiplash. However, sometimes a neck artery dissection occurs. Depending on the extent of the injury, the victim may experience immediate symptoms. Sometimes it may take days before the blood clot breaks loose and causes a stroke.
  • Sports and exercise injuries. Dissections have occurred to athletes engaging in contact sports such as football where helmet use does little to protect the neck from violent movements. The extreme poses and acrobatics as well as the accidents of acro yoga can also subject the neck to hyperextension and shock.
  • Chiropractic injuries. Chiropractic adjustment can involve forceful and sudden twisting of the neck. In individuals more prone to artery dissection, this adjustment may be sufficient to cause the injury. Chiropractic injuries are relatively rare, but continue to occur.

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