Why is it that, like in action movies, when you break someone’s neck they die? Isn’t it just like breaking your arm? I know there’s your medula there, but why does it kill you?

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Why is it that, like in action movies, when you break someone’s neck they die? Isn’t it just like breaking your arm? I know there’s your medula there, but why does it kill you?

In: Biology

Well, first, it’s the movies. Breaking a neck in real life doesn’t always kill you right away.
But when it does kill instantly, it’s because breaking or wrenching apart the spine bones also usually destroys the spinal cord inside the bones.

When the spinal cord is damaged enough, it turns you into an instant quadriplegic. You become paralyzed from that point down. Your heart may keep beating for a a while, but breathing is probably going to stop. Your brain then basically suffocates, you black out, then go comatose and then die.

Your spinal cord that goes from brain to body is inside the neck bones. Break the spinal cord and your brain’s signal to inhale ceases to get to your diaphragm. You stop breathing and suffocate. You also lose ability to move around

Your heart runs on its own independent of the brain so it’ll keep on pumping for many minutes.

Depending on how the break occurs, a spinal cord injury can paralyze your lungs. Even if this doesn’t happen, most neck breaking grips also allow pressure on the windpipe and carotid arteries. Enough pressure on either is fatal.

Your spinal cord carries a lot of the functional nerve impulses from your brain to the rest of your body. If that connection is severed through something like a neck/spinal injury, then death and/or permanent disability are more likely. The bones in your extremities have less of those connections that are critical to survival, so those injuries tend to be less life threatening unless there are severe wounds with heavy bleeding.

Your brain controls all the muscles in your body with nerves – biological wires. Those “wires” run down your spine and then split out to every muscle. Your heart and what makes your lungs inflate are muscles. Break the wires and they shut off.

Note: the heart and lungs wires split our really high up the spine – breaking a neck high enough and completely enough to kill someone is not as easy as they make it look.