How to treat a spinal and/or neck injury

If this is an emergency, please call 000 immediately.

What is a spinal and/or neck injury?

If the patient is unconscious as a result of a head injury, you should always suspect a spinal injury. DO NOT move a patient with a suspected spinal injury unless they are in danger. Movement can cause further injury.

Twisting, compressing or bending an injured spine can increase the damage. If the patient must be moved, take extreme care to keep the spine straight and avoid twisting or bending. Where the neck is involved, support the head and neck with your hands.

This guide is regularly updated and aligns with the current edition of Australian First Aid (4th edition, 7/2011)

Signs and Symptoms


      • Pain at or below the site of the injury

      • Tenderness over the site of the injury

      • Absent or altered sensation below the site of the injury, such as tingling in hands or feet

      • Loss of movement or impaired movement below the site of the injury

What to do

Unconscious Breathing Patient




Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.


Place the patient in the recovery position. Carefully support their head and neck, and avoid twisting or bending during movement.

Ensure the patient’s airway is clear and open.


Hold the patient’s head and neck steady to prevent twisting or bending of the spine.


Conscious Patient



Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.


Keep the patient in the position found. Only move if in danger.


Reassure the patient. Ask them not to move.


Loosen any tight clothing.


Hold the head and neck steady to prevent twisting or bending of the spine.



Spinal and neck injury fact sheet

DRSABCD poster

Related advice

Recovery position

The recovery position is one of those important pieces of first aid information that everyone should know, so we’ve created a quick and simple guide to the recovery position here.

DRSABCD action plan

The St John DRSABCD Action Plan is crucial in assessing whether a patient has any life-threatening conditions and if any immediate first aid is necessary.


This fact sheet identifies the signs and symptoms of concussion, and outlines the steps you can take to treat someone who you suspect has a concussion.

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