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Anatomy of the Cervical Spine

The neck is the upper portion of the spine and is part of a long flexible column known as the spinal column. Twenty-four connected bones (vertebrae) make up this column. The seven bones in your neck are referred to as the cervical spine.

These vertebrae look similar to building blocks, since each is stacked atop of each other. Every vertebra is separated by a cushion, which is called an inter-vertebral disc.

What is the inter-vertebral disc?
The outer, thick ring on the edges of the disc is the annulus; the spongy center is the nucleus. The annulus serves as a gasket with a goal to keep the nucleus moist. Because of the soft, gelatin-like centers, the inter-vertebral discs serve as shock
absorbing pads in your neck and prevent the rubbing of one bone against another. Also, these cushions provide the flexibility of your cervical spine, allowing you to turn your head freely.

What is the spinal canal?
Attached to the back of these vertebral bodies is a bone arch that provides an open space, the spinal canal, down the spine. This space houses the spinal cord and nerve bundles. The spinal cord itself is bathed in cerebrospinal fluid (fluid that circulates through your spine and brain) and is covered by several protective membranes.

At each vertebral level, i.e., each building block of bone, a pair of spinal nerves exit, one to the left and one to the right, off the spinal cord through a small opening called a foramen. These nerves provide the relay of messages to and from the brain, allowing us to move our body and to feel sensation. Nerves that exit through the cervical spine affect the neck, shoulder, arms, and hands. Additionally, muscles and ligaments are attached to the vertebrae and support the spinal cord and nerves.

What are spinal nerves?
The hollow tube formed by the bony ring on the back of the spinal column surrounds the spinal cord as it passes through the spine. The spinal cord is a similar to a long wire made up of millions of nerve fibers. Just as the skull protects the brain, the bones of the spinal column protect the spinal cord.

The spinal cord travels down from the brain through the spinal column. Two large nerves branch off the spinal cord from each vertebra, one on the left and one on the right. The nerves pass through the neural foramina. These spinal nerves group together to form the main nerves that go to the limbs and organs. The nerves that come out of the cervical spine go to the arms and hands.

What are ligaments?
Ligaments are strong connective tissues that attach bones to other bones. (Connective tissues are networks of fiber that hold the cells of the body together.) Several long ligaments connect on the front and back sections of the vertebrae. The anterior longitudinal ligament runs lengthwise down the front of the vertebral bodies. Two other ligaments run full length within the spinal canal. The posterior longitudinal ligament attaches on the back of the vertebral bodies. The ligamentum flavum is a long elastic band that connects to the front surface of the lamina bones.

What are the spinal muscles?
The anterior cervical area is covered with muscles that run from the rib cage and collar bone to the cervical vertebrae, jaw, and skull. The posterior cervical muscles cover the bones along the back of the spine and make up the bulk of the tissues on the back of the neck.

This information is for educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice.