Cervical Spine Anatomy Animation

This video animation about the cervical spine explains the many different anatomical parts of the neck, including the vertebrae, joints, intervertebral discs, ligaments, and more.

The cervical spine, also known as the neck, is made up of the first 7 vertebrae in your spinal column. These vertebral bones are abbreviated according to their descending order: C1 through C7. The cervical spine begins at the base of the skull.

The first two bones, 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 axis and atlas allow the head to rotate, move side-to-side, and move forward and backward.

The third through sixth cervical vertebrae (C3-C6) are different from the atlas and axis. These vertebrae have a box-shaped body (vertebral body). The illustration below is an overhead view of the fourth (C4) cervical vertebra.

C4 vertebra

C7: Vertebra Prominens
The seventh cervical vertebra (C7) is called the vertebra prominens because it’s spinous process is more prominent than other cervical vertebrae. The vertebra prominens is the spinous process; a bony structure that projects from the back of the vertebral body. While C3-C7 have spinous processes, the C7 spinous process projects outward the farthest. In fact, the spinous process of C7 can be seen and felt beneath the skin near the base of the neck.

Intervertebral Discs
Between each vertebra in the neck is an intervertebral disc. Intervertebral discs attach to ligaments and are part of each level’s motion segment—the parts of the spine that allow movement. Each disc is made 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 disc is similar to a shock absorber—it absorbs and distributes forces incurred during activity, such as walking or running.

Cervical Spine Ligaments
More than 12 different ligaments help stabilize the cervical spinal column and control and prevent excessive movement, such as hyperextension (backward) and hyperflexion (forward). Ligaments are strong bands of fibrous connective tissue that link bones and structures together.

Tendons and Muscles
Tendons attach muscle to bone. There are more than 15 different muscle 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
The spine’s system of the blood vessels (eg, arteries, veins) deliver needed nutrients and removes cellular waste.

Spinal Cord and Nerve Structures
The spinal canal is a cavity within the spinal column that houses and protects 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 do not become compressed.

Updated on: 05/24/18
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Cervical Spine Anatomy (Neck)

Detailed description of cervical spine anatomy: includes image of cervical vertebra and list of parts of the body controlled by the cervical spinal nerves.
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