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Cervical spine

Learning objectives

This study unit will help you to: 

  1. Locate and name each cervical vertebra. 
  2. Identify the bony landmarks and articular surfaces of the cervical vertebrae. 
  3. Name the joints and associated ligaments of the cervical vertebrae.

Watch video

The cervical spine forms the superior most portion of the vertebral column located between the cranium and the vertebra T1. The cervical spine is made up of 7 vertebrae, each named according to their position from C1-C7, and forms the bony framework of the neck. 

There are three atypical vertebrae in the cervical spine. The first and second cervical vertebrae are known as the atlas and axis, while the seventh vertebra is also named the vertebra prominens, due its elongated spinous process. The rest of the cervical vertebrae, C3-C6, all have a similar anatomical structure and are therefore classified as typical vertebrae.

Find out more about the cervical vertebrae in the video below!

Take a quiz

That’s a lot to learn and it can be hard to take it all in. Why not try out a quiz to help consolidate your knowledge.

Want to challenge yourself even further? Then try out this fully customisable quiz on the elements of the spine.

Browse atlas

Explore the seven cervical vertebrae and their associated landmarks in the gallery below.

Now that you are familiar with each vertebra, let’s take a look at the associated joints and ligaments of the cervical spine.


Key points about the cervical spine
Definition Bony segment of the vertebral column, between the occipital bone and the thoracic spine, consisting of seven vertebrae (C1-C7)
Atlas (C1) Articulations:
Occipital bone via atlantooccipital joints
Axis via lateral and median atlantoaxial joints

Distinguishing features
Anterior arch
Anterior tubercle
Facet for dens
Lateral mass
Posterior arch
Groove for vertebral artery
Posterior tubercle
Lack of vertebral body and spinous process
Axis (C2) Articulations:
Atlas via lateral and median atlantoaxial joints
C3 via intervertebral symphysis and zygapophyseal joints

Distinguishing features:
Dens of axis
Anterior and posterior articular facets of dens
Apex of dens
C3-C6 (typical vertebrae) Articulations
Adjacent cervical vertebrae via intervertebral and zygapophyseal joints

Vertebral body
Uncinate process of body
Transverse process
Anterior and posterior tubercles of transverse process (carotid tubercle in C6)
Groove for spinal nerve
Foramen transversarium
Superior and inferior articular facets
Vertebral arch (pedicle and lamina)
Spinous process (often bifid)
Vertebral foramen
Vertebra prominens (C7) Articulations:
C6 and T1 vertebrae via intervertebral and zygapophyseal joints

Distinguishing features:
Vestigial anterior and posterior tubercles
Long spinous process with a prominent tubercle
Ligaments Alar ligament
Apical ligament
Transverse ligament of the atlas

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