Atypical cervical vertebrae

Last revised by Jason Ma on 28 Mar 2023

Of the cervical vertebrae, the atlas (C1)axis (C2) and vertebra prominens (C7) are considered atypical cervical vertebrae.

The atlas (C1) lacks a body or spinous process. It has anterior and posterior arches with lateral masses. Its superior articular surfaces articulate with the occiput at the atlanto-occipital joint. This articulation contributes for than 50% of neck flexion and extension movement. Its inferior articular surfaces articulate with the axis at the atlanto-axial joint. The two lateral masses and anterior arch makes up its 3 ossification centers.

The axis (C2) is unique with an odontoid process (the dens) projecting from its superior surface. It has 5 ossification centers.

The vertebra prominens (C7) has the longest spinous process of all cervical vertebrae. It is also non-bifid. These features give rise to its name. Its transverse foramina are small and do not transmit the vertebral artery like the other cervical vertebrae.

For a basic anatomic description of the structure of a generic vertebra, see vertebrae.

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