Typical cervical vertebrae

Last revised by Assoc Prof Craig Hacking on 08 Oct 2020

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
  • 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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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1
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  • Figure 2: typical cervical vertebra (Gray's illustration)
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  • Figure 3: typical cervical vertebra (Gray's illustration)
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