Cervical spine

Dr Kieran Kusel and Dr Tim Luijkx et al.

The cervical 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.

For a basic anatomic description of the structure 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
  • large, round 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.

Anatomy: Spine
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Article information

rID: 30849
Section: Anatomy
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • cervical vertebra
  • cervical vertebrae

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: typical vertebra
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  • Figure 3: ligaments
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  • Figure 2
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  • Figure 4: atlas (C1)
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  • Figure 5: axis (C2)
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  • Figure 6: axis (C2)
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