Cervical spine

Last revised by Henry Knipe on 29 Mar 2023

The cervical spine (often shortened to C-spine) is the upper part of the spine extending from the skull base to the thorax at the level of the first vertebra with a rib attached to it. It normally consists of seven vertebrae. Its main function is to support the skull and maintain the relative positions of the brain and spinal cord. It also provides a pathway for the vertebral arteries and veins to carry blood to and from the brain via the transverse foramina.

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

Gross anatomy

Although C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis) have unique characteristics and C7 (also termed vertebra prominens) deviates from the overall pattern, general characteristics of the cervical vertebrae include:

  • small, oval-shaped vertebral bodies
  • ​relatively wide vertebral arch with large vertebral foramen
  • small, triangular vertebral canal
  • relatively long, bifid (except for C7) inferiorly pointing spinous processes
  • transverse foramina protecting the vertebral arteries and veins

A more detailed description can be found in the article on typical cervical vertebrae.

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1
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  • Figure 2: cervical nerve root levels
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  • Figure 3: ligaments
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  • Figure 4: typical cervical vertebra (Gray's illustration)
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  • Figure 5: typical cervical vertebra (Gray's illustration)
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  • Figure 6: atlas (Gray's illustration)
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  • Figure 7: axis (Gray's illustration)
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  • Figure 8: axis (Gray's illustration)
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  • Figure 9: vertebra prominens (Gray's illustration)
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