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Cervical Spine Anatomy Animation

The cervical spine is made up of the first seven vertebrae in your back, and the vertebrae are referred to as C1 through C7.  The cervical spine begins at the base of the skull.

The first two segments, C1 and C2, are unlike typical vertebral bodies.  C1 is called the atlas; it is ring-shaped and supports the head.  C2 is the axis and includes the dens (odontoid process), a tooth-like bone that projects upward into the ring of the atlas.  The den and the atlas allow the head to rotate, move side-to-side, and move forward and backward.

C3 through C6
The third cervical vertebra through the sixth (C3-C6) are similarly shaped (see Figure 1). 

c4-labelled-wu-AA

Figure 1

C7: Vertebra Prominens
The seventh cervical vertebra (C7) is called the vertebra prominens because it is more prominent than other cervical vertebrae.  The spinous processes (bones that project off the back of the vertebral body) in C7 stick out farther than the spinous processes of the other cervical vertebrae. In fact, the spinous process of C7 can be seen and felt beneath the skin.

Intervertebral Discs
Between each vertebral body is an intervertebral disc.

Intervertebral discs attach to ligaments and are part of each level’s motion segment—the parts of the spine that help you move.  Each disc is made up of a tough outer band of fibrocartilage called the annulus fibrosus.  The annulus surrounds and protects the inner gel-like core called the nucleus pulposus.  The nucleus is similar to a shock absorber—it absorbs and distributes external forces (eg, from walking).

Cervical Spine Ligaments
Ligaments are important to cervical stability and movement.  There are more than 12 types of ligaments in the cervical spine that serve to keep the neck stable both when it’s moving and when it’s at rest.

Ligaments are strong bands of fibrous connective tissue that link bones and structures together.   Ligaments help prevent excessive movement called hyper-extension (backward) and hyper-flexion (forward).

Tendons and Muscles
Tendons attach muscles to bone.  There are more than 15 different muscles or groups in the cervical spine.  Muscles work with ligaments to support the spine and control movement.  Basically, there are 4 types of vertebral muscles: forward flexors, lateral (side) flexors, rotators, and extensors.

Blood Supply
Like other organ systems in the body, the cervical structures receive oxygen and nutrients through a complex system of arteries, veins, and capillaries.

Spinal Cord and Nerve Structures
The spinal canal is a cavity that houses the spinal cord.  Nerve rootlets branch off the spinal cord and exit the spinal column through neuroforamen—nerve passageways at the left and right sides between 2 vertebral bodies.  The height of the intervertebral disc helps to keep the space sufficiently open so spinal nerves are not compressed.

Cervical Spine Anatomy Is Complex
As you’ve seen in this animation, the cervical spine (neck) is complex.  It has many moving parts—vertebrae, joints, intervertebral discs, ligaments, and more—to keep you moving safely.

Updated on: 10/24/12
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