Cervical Spine Anatomy (eOrthopod)

the cervical spine has the important job

of supporting the skull and allowing us

to move our head to direct our vision

the cervical spine also protects the

spinal cord the connection between our

brain and the rest of our body

two common anatomic terms are useful as

they relate to the cervical spine

the term anterior refers to the front of

the neck

the term posterior refers to the back of

the neck

the human spine is made up of 24 spinal

bones called vertebra vertebra are

stacked on top of one another to form

the spinal column the spinal column is

the body's main upright support seven

vertebra make up the cervical spine

often referred to as C 1 to C 7 the top

vertebra c1 connects to the bottom of

the skull the cervical spine curves

slightly inward and ends where c7 joins

the top of the thoracic spine the base

of the skull sits on top of c1 also

called the atlas two thick bony arches

form a large hole through the center of

the atlas this opening is large because

the spinal cord is wider where at first

exits the brain and skull the atlas has

two relatively large bony projections on

each side the atlas sits on top of the

c2 vertebra also called the axis the

axis has a large bony knob on top called

the dens the dens points up and fits

through a hole in the atlas this

specialized connection between the axis

and the atlas gives the neck most of its

ability to turn to the left and right

each vertebra throughout the spine is

made of the same parts the main section

of each cervical vertebra from c2 to c7

is formed by round block of bone called

the vertebral body a bone ring attaches

to the back of the vertebral body this

ring is formed by two pedicles that

connect to the back of the vertebral

body and to lamina that join the

pedicles to complete the ring when the

vertebra are stacked on top of each

other the bone rings form a hollow tube

that surrounds the spinal cord the

inside of this hollow tube is called the

spinal canal the bone rings provide a

protective roof over the spinal cord

a bony nob projects posterior lis at the

same point where the two lamina Bones

joined together at the back of the spine

these projections called spinous

processes can be felt as you rub your

fingers up and down the back of your

spine each vertebra in the spine has two

bony knobs that point out to the side

one on the left and one on the right

these bony projections are called

transverse processes

unlike the rest of the spine the

cervical vertebra have an opening that

passes down through each transverse

process this opening called the

transverse foramen provides a passageway

for arteries that run up each side of

the neck to supply the back of the brain

with blood

between each pair of vertebra our two

joints call facet joints the surface of

the facet joint is covered by articular

cartilage articular cartilage is a

smooth rubbery material that covers the

ends of most joints it allows the ends

of the bones to move against each other

smoothly with minimal friction these

joints connect the vertebra together and

slide against one another to allow the

neck to move in many directions except

for the very top of the cervical spine

each cervical vertebra has two facet

joints on each side the facet joints on

top connected the vertebra above the

ones below join the vertebra below when

the vertebra stack on top of one another

an opening is formed on each side of the

spine called a neuro foramen a nerve

root leaves the spinal cord through this

opening one on the left and one on the

right the spinal cord travels through

the spinal canal the hollow tube of bone

created by the stacked vertebra the

spinal cord is made up of millions of

nerve fibers two large nerves called

nerve roots branch off the spinal cord

at each level where two vertebra come

together one on the left and one on the

right these nerve roots branch into the

nerves that travel into the upper

extremities upper body and to certain

organs ligaments are strong connective

tissues that attach bones to other bones

several long ligaments connect on the

front and back sections of the vertebra

the anterior longitudinal ligament runs

lengthwise down the front of the

vertebral bodies the posterior

longitudinal ligament attaches on the

back of the vertebral bodies the

ligamentum flavum is a long elastic band

that connects to the front surface of

each of the lamina bones each set of

Fassett joints is also surrounded by a

joint capsule that is made up of


a special structure in the spine called

an intervertebral disk sits between each

pair of vertebra an intervertebral disc

is made of two parts in the center of

each intervertebral disc is a spongy

material called the nucleus pulposus the

nucleus pulposus provides most of the

shock absorption in the spine the

nucleus is surrounded by the annulus a

series of strong ligamentous rings that

attach to the vertebra above and below

the intervertebral discs the anterior

cervical area is covered with muscles

that run from the rib cage and

collarbone to the cervical vertebra jaw

and skull the posterior cervical muscles

cover the bones along the back of the

spine and make up the bulk of the

tissues on the back of the neck a good

way to understand the anatomy of the

cervical spine is by looking at a single

spinal segment a spinal segment includes

two vertebra separated by an

intervertebral disc the nerves that

leave the spinal cord between each pair

of vertebra and the small facet joints

that link each level of the spinal

column the intervertebral disc separates

the two vertebral bodies of the spinal

segment the facet joints and

intervertebral discs work together to

allow bending and rotating of the

cervical spine the facet joints slide

while the disc works like a flexible

connection between the two vertebra

it is probably quite clear that the

cervical spine is a complex machine with

an important job to do understanding the

structure and function of the cervical

spine can help you better understand how

problems in the neck can cause pain and

dysfunction enabling you to become more

involved in your healthcare and better

able to care for your neck problem