Cervical spine - Anatomy, Diagram & Definition - Human Anatomy | Kenhub

Well, hello there! It’s Matt from Kenhub, and in this tutorial, we will do a quick overview

of the cervical spine. The cervical vertebrae are the smallest vertebrae in the spinal column.

There are seven individual bones and the first, second and seventh are uniquely-shaped, whereas,

the third to the sixth are similarly shaped. First, we will discuss the third to sixth

vertebrae then the first, second, and seventh.

The cervical vertebrae C3 to C6 have small bodies with posterior and lateral pedicles.

The short spinous processes are bifid in shape whereas the vertebral foramina are shaped

like large triangles. Within each transverse process, there is a foramen transversarium

and, at the level of C6, the vertebral artery enters the corresponding foramen. The anterior

tubercle and the posterior tubercle are the anterior and posterior portions of the transverse


The first cervical vertebra (C1) – otherwise, known as the atlas as well as the first vertebrae

in the spinal column. It supports the skull which sits directly above it and it only has

an anterior arch and a posterior arch with no body or spinous process. Laterally, large

bone masses help to support the occipital condyles of the skull superiorly and balance

the atlas upon the axis inferiorly. As with the other vertebrae, the foramen transversarium

is located within a large transverse process. The anterior arch has a dental fovea where

the dens of the axis articulates with the atlas. The posterior arch contains a groove

for the vertebral artery as well as a posterior tubercle which is a rudiment of the spinous


The axis, or C2 as it is clinically called, has its odontoid process or dens located on

its superior surface. It has a large bifid spinous process and, in contrast to C1, a

small transverse process which houses its foramen transversarium.

Lastly, C7, which is also called the vertebra prominens, is the only cervical vertebra whose

spinous process is not bifid. It is called the most prominent vertebra because its long

spinous process protrudes from under the skin and is visible to the naked eye. It has a

large transverse process like the atlas which also holds the foramen transversarium that

encapsulates the vertebral veins and, occasionally, the vertebral arteries.

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