The Australian Woman who can Break her Neck by Sneezing or Laughing


When Monique Jeffrey threw her head back to laugh about her recent neck injury from sneezing, she re-injured her neck. This wasn't the first time, but this time, it was serious.

Breaking one’s neck is right up there with burning to death, falling from a tall building, and sinking in quicksand. We waste hours worried about traumatic events, which will likely never befall us. 

Jeffrey’s story not only had this writer sitting up straighter, I re-investigated my quicksand escape plan just in case.

The first time Jeffrey broke her neck, she was almost home alone. Her spouse was at work, but their newborn baby was asleep in the next room. It was, to say the least, a nightmare.


The first time


Resting in bed one morning, Monique Jeffrey engaged in behaviour normal to most of us. She was scanning her phone for emails and such when she sneezed. Her neck snapped forward, collapsing her 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae (as she would later discover).

Jeffrey was sitting up enough that her head came to rest on her shoulder with unbelievable pain in her spine. She was unable to move her head so like any of us would, she panicked.

Were the baby to have needed her attention, she would have been unable to respond. The most she could do was call her husband, Sam.

In a statement to, she said:

“I texted Sam just saying ‘help!’ and he called me and I answered on speaker phone because I couldn’t put the phone to my ear. He came home and called an ambulance. It was pretty scary and it was such a strange sensation. I was in so much pain after just one little sneeze.“

Monique and Sam made it through that event, but it was fourteen weeks of recovery for Monique. The doctors put her in a neck brace, so she had support but no neck mobility during that time. According to her doctor, Jeffrey made a full recovery, until…


It happened again…


For most of us, a stiff neck can ruin an otherwise normal day. Those days happen, but there’s no need for panic. One would think that someone who broke her actual neck would be more concerned, but when Jeffrey’s neck stiffened a few weeks ago, she took it in stride.

“I was at work and I had a bit of a stiff neck. Nothing awful, it was just a little bit sore,” she told “I was actually joking around with some colleagues because they were making some inappropriate jokes about how I may have hurt my neck, and I threw my head back and did it again."

That’s when most of us would hit full panic mode. How many times can one break her neck before something serious results? Jeffery didn’t even flinch.

“It wasn’t as bad as the last time,” she told “I shuffled back to my desk and I said to one of my colleagues ‘I’m in trouble here, ‘I think I’ve done my neck again’ because it felt the same and I was stuck.”

No biggie, everyone. I broke my neck again; pesky thing. As it turned out, Jeffrey may not have felt the panic the second time, but the doctors were more concerned. As a result of this last event, they put her in a higher level of neck traction; a halo.


The reality of trauma

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For Jeffrey, her problem was more chronic than she realised. This is the case with injury.

We often talk about what happened at the moment we injured ourselves, but that information tells little of the story leading up the trauma. Even in cases where there is a real trauma, like a car accident, unless we are hit directly, the body gives where it is weak.

Joints with a lifetime of abuse will buckle under pressure. You can’t just sneeze or laugh your neck into a break.

As a result of many contributing factors, genetics, lifestyle, her posture as it relates to her self-perception or any other number of potential contributors, Jeffrey had been working into that situation for years without knowing it.


Life as an angel

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Now, Jeffrey gets to wear a halo. Unfortunately, it’s not the sort that comes with wings. The halo rests on her shoulders, restricting her head movement to almost zero.

“I’ve had two kids and getting the halo is worse than childbirth,” said Jeffrey to “I can lie down but I sleep sitting up in a special bed.”

There is a ring (halo) around her head, with screws pinning her skull in place. It’s barbaric, but the best technology we have for keeping the head still. The only downside is the halo isn’t helping Jeffrey strengthen her neck muscles.

“All the muscles in my neck are wasting away,” she says, “but I don’t have to hold my head up because it’s being held up by the bars and screws. You kind of just get used to it."

At some point, Jeffrey will have to learn how to sneeze and laugh without damaging her vertebrae. That means she’ll undergo rehabilitation for months to strengthen her neck, and learn to move without hurting herself. Barring the success of that treatment, doctors may suggest a surgery to fuse her spine.

Jeffrey will live. In time, she’ll even recover her life, but she may take some time to recover her finances. The costs of her ongoing treatments have been so high she had to start a crowdfunding page.

Jeffrey has learned to laugh about this as much as she can. These days, however, she does it without tossing back her head. Smart woman.


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