Cervical vertebrae are the seven vertebrae that form the uppermost part of the vertebral column, commonly known as the neck region. They are an essential part of the skeletal system, supporting the head, protecting the spinal cord and allowing for a wide range of movements of the neck. In this blog post, we will explore the characteristics and functions of cervical vertebrae in more detail.
Characteristics of Cervical Vertebrae
The cervical are smaller and more delicate than the other vertebrae in the spinal column. They are characterized by several distinctive features:
- They are the only vertebrae in the spinal column that have transverse foramina, small openings on either side of the vertebral body that allow for the passage of blood vessels.
- They have a relatively large vertebral foramen (opening in the vertebrae), which accommodates the spinal cord and provides protection for the spinal cord.
- The spinous process (a bony projection on the back of the vertebrae) is short and bifid, meaning it is split in two.
- The first two cervical (C1 and C2) have unique structures that allow for greater range of motion in the neck.
Functions of Cervical Vertebrae
The cervical have several important functions:
- Support of the Head: The cervical vertebrae support the weight of the head, which can weigh up to 11 pounds. The top two vertebrae (C1 and C2) are responsible for bearing the majority of this weight.
- Protection of the Spinal Cord: The cervical encase and protect the spinal cord, a vital component of the nervous system. The spinal cord runs through the vertebral foramen
types of cervical vertebrae
There are seven cervical vertebrae in the human spine, and each has unique features that distinguish it from the others. The seven cervical vertebrae are named C1 through C7, starting from the top of the spine and working downwards.
- C1 vertebra: Also known as the atlas, this is the topmost cervical vertebra. It is unique in that it has no body, and its primary function is to support the weight of the skull.
- C2 vertebra: Also known as the axis, this vertebra has a unique feature called the dens (or odontoid process), which extends upwards from the body of the vertebra and allows for rotation of the head.
- C3 to C6 vertebrae: These vertebrae are similar in shape and function, with each having a small body and a large vertebral foramen (the opening through which the spinal cord passes).
- C7 vertebra: Also known as the vertebra prominens, this vertebra is the largest and has a prominent spinous process that can be felt at the base of the neck.
Overall, the cervical vertebrae play a crucial role in supporting the weight of the head and neck, protecting the spinal cord, and allowing for movement of the head and neck.