Typical cervical vertebrae

Last revised by Henry Knipe on 4 Oct 2022

Of the seven cervical vertebrae, C3 through C6 have typical anatomy, while C7 looks very similar. C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis) have very distinct anatomical features. For a basic anatomic description of the structure a generic vertebra, see vertebrae.

  • small, oval-shaped vertebral bodies

  • relatively wide vertebral arch with large vertebral foramen

  • relatively long, bifid (except for C7) inferiorly pointing spinous processes

  • transverse foramina protecting the vertebral arteries and veins

Anterior components of the typical cervical vertebra 1:

  • body

  • posterolateral lip (uncus)

  • pedicle

  • transverse process

    • anterior and posterior tubercle of the transverse process

    • intertubercular lamella of the transverse process

    • foramen of the transverse process

Posterior components of the typical cervical vertebra 1:

  • lamina

  • bifid spinous process

  • superior articular process

  • inferior articular process

  • intervertebral disc (superior and inferior): interposed between hyaline cartilage on the centrum of the vertebral bodies

  • uncovertebral joint 2: the superior surface of the vertebra below curves upward to form a hyaline covered lip. The lip articulates with the inferior bevelled surface of the vertebra above; this occurs bilaterally, and thus the intervertebral foramen in cervical vertebrae is bordered anteriorly by both the cervical vertebrae from above and below (as opposed to above alone)

  • facet (zygapophyseal) joint: articular processes lie at the junction of the pedicle and lamina, and the articular surface can be viewed as a cylinder sliced obliquely

    • upper facets face obliquely up and back

    • lower facets face down and forward

  • variable presence of bifid spinous processes

  • variable length of spinous processes

  • blocked or fused vertebrae

  • accessory transverse foramina

  • accessory articulation between cervical transverse processes 4

  • lateral view: if the patient is supine, this view will allow for all 7 vertebrae to be seen 1

  • swimmers view: another lateral view where the patient will have one arm up and one down 1; provides views of the cervicothoracic junction

  • AP view 1

  • AP open mouth: allows for assessment of C1 and C2 alignment and the dens

  • oblique view: for facet joints and intervertebral foramina 1

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