Cervical Vertebrae Anatomy: Know Your Neck
By Jayton Miller
Neck problems are nothing to mess around with. Neck pain and associated problems can be debilitating and effect a staggering 80% of people at least once during their lifetime. Let’s take a look at the main function and structure of this area, common injuries that can occur with it, and some ways we can help support a healthy neck.
General Function and Structure Of The Cervical Vertebrae:
The skeletal structure of the neck is made up of seven cervical vertebrae. The main purpose of these vertebrae are to allow for a large range of motion for the skull, support the skull, and to protect the spinal cord.
The first two vertebrae, known as the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2), play a unique role in connecting the cervical spine to the skull. The lower five vertebrae are relatively similar in structure with the seventh vertebrae having a few slight differences.
The third to the sixth vertebrae (C3-C6) are what is known as typical cervical vertebrae. These vertebrae mostly consist of:
- A body towards the anterior or front side.
- A vertebral arch towards the posterior or back side.
These two structures surround the hole of the vertebral column known as the vertebral foramen that allows for the spinal cord or nervous tissue to pass through. These vertebrae are relatively small compared to the other vertebrae that are found in the spine.
The First Cervical Vertebrae:
Also known as the atlas, the first cervical vertebrae is the main point of connection between the spine and the skull. This vertebrae does not have a body allowing it to have space for the projection on the second cervical vertebrae known as the dens. It is mostly in the form of a ring and allows for the passage of the vertebral arteries into the skull along with having space for the dens.
The Second Cervical Vertebrae:
Also known as the axis, the second cervical vertebrae is differentiated from the other cervical vertebrae by its protrusion known as the dens. This protrusion (and the whole joint) is where the rotation of the head occurs.
The Seventh Cervical Vertebrae:
This vertebrae, also known as the vertebra prominens, has a larger spine and transverse processes than the rest of the cervical vertebrae. It also has an oval transversarium that helps with the passage of an accessory vertebral vein
Common Challenges Of The Cervical Vertebrae:
Dislocations are usually the most common injury that is seen with the cervical vertebrae. This is a very serious injury as instability in the area can lead to damage of the spinal leading to paralysis or death. This is one reason why in emergency situations if you cannot safely exclude damage to the cervical vertebrae as an injury then you should not move the patient until proper equipment and medical professionals are present.
Ways To Support The Cervical Vertebrae:
Generally, walking and sitting with good posture, versus being slumped over, is going to make a massive impact on your cervical health. Some good exercises that you can do to strengthen the muscles in your neck to help support the cervical vertebrae are:
- Neck Retractions
- Neck Bridges
- Weighted Neck Extensions
These are just a few of the many different exercises for the neck. If you are interested in more exercises and examples of neck training I highly suggest checking out Jeff Nippards youtube channel for more information.
Overall, the cervical vertebrae offer the most range of motion relative to the other vertebrae in the spinal column. They are the smallest of the vertebrae in the spine and play an important role in supporting the skull, protecting the spinal cord, and allowing for the large amount of range of motion for the head. Being extremely cautious of possible injury to the cervical spine in emergency situations could help you prevent someone from serious injury or even death. Make sure to not move an individual who potentially has had any damage to the spine, leave this work up to the medical professionals.