Cervical Spine Anatomy
A Patient's Guide to Cervical Spine Anatomy
To learn much more about the individual parts of the spine you may wish to review the document, entitled:
The Cervical Spine
The cervical spine is made up of the first
seven vertebrae in the spine. It starts just below the skull and ends just
above the thoracic spine. The cervical spine has a lordotic curve (a backward
C-shape) - just like the lumbar spine. The cervical spine is much more mobile
than both of the other spinal regions - think about all the directions and angles
you can turn your neck.
Unlike the rest of the spine, there are special openings in each vertebra
in the cervical spine for the arteries (blood vessels that carry blood away
from the heart), as well as the spinal canal that carries the spinal cord. The
arteries that run through these openings bring blood to the brain.
Two vertebrae in the cervical spine, the atlas and the axis, differ from the
other vertebrae because they are designed specifically for rotation. These two
vertebrae are what allow your neck to rotate in so many directions, including
looking to the side.
The atlas is the first cervical vertebra -- the one that sits between the skull
and the rest of spine. The atlas does not have a vertebral body, but does have
a thick forward (anterior) arch and a thin back (posterior) arch, with two prominent
The atlas sits on top of the second cervical vertebra -- the axis. The axis
has a bony knob called the odontoid process that sticks up through the hole
in the atlas. It is this special arrangement that allows the head to turn from
side to side as far as it can. Special ligaments between these two vertebrae
allow a great deal of rotation to occur between the two bones.
Though the cervical spine is very flexible, it is also very much at risk for
injury from strong, sudden movements, such as whiplash-type injuries. This high
risk of harm is due to: the limited muscle support that exists in the cervical
area, and because this part of the spine has to support the weight of the head.
This is a lot of weight for a small, thin set of bones and soft tissues to bear.
Therefore, sudden, strong head movement can cause damage.
Copyright © 2003 DePuy Acromed.
« Back to Patient Guides
This page was last updated: June 17, 2013