Cervical vertebrae refer to seven bony rings located in the neck between the thoracic vertebrae in the trunk and the base of the skull. These bony rings form a continuous column between the chest and the skull. It is the Cervical vertebrae that sustain damage from a whiplash injury (leading to multiple whiplash injury claim each year!)
Functions of Cervical Vertebrae
This vertebrae process performs many essential functions that are paramount to the body survival.
(a) The various joints formed between the cervical vertebrae and the skull provides effective flexibility that allows the neck and the head to extend, flex and rotate.
(b) The various muscles attached to this vertebrae process provide ideal posture to the neck and head. There are considered to be the most effective muscles in maintaining body posture.
(c) The bony arches of these vertebrae processes protect essential blood vessels and nerves passing through the neck from any mechanical damage.
Main Features of Cervical Vertebrae
Each of these vertebrae is named according to its position from the first (superior) to the seventh (inferior). They are denoted as C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6 and C7. Details on each of these component parts of the spins, as follows:
Atlas (C1) - This refers to the vertebra inferior to the skull.
Axis (C2) - This refers to the second vertebra that facilitates side to side movement of the head. This happens because this vertebra provides the axis upon which the atlas and the skull rotate when the head moves side to side. The odontoid process gives the axis a very distinct shape. This process is a tooth like prominence that extends from its body superiorly towards the axis. This process provides the axis at the atlantoxial joint, upon which the atlas rotates.
Vertebral arch - This refers to a thin ring of bone that surrounds the transverse foramina and the vertebral. It plays a critical role of providing space of the spinal cord and the meninges as they pass via the neck.
Transverse foramina - These surround the vertebral veins and arteries. They work along with jugular veins and carotid arteries, to transport blood to and from the brain. Transverse process is located on the right and left lateral sides of each vertebra. This process forms the insertion point for muscles of erector spinae. These muscles are essential in flexing and extending the neck.
Spinous process - This is among the various bony processes that extend from vertebral arch and is essential for muscle attachment and movement of the neck. It extends from the posterior of the arch and serves as a connection point for muscles such as spinalis and trapezius. These muscles are vital in extending the neck.
The body - This refers to a thickened region of bone that lies anterior to the vertebral foramen. It forms the main bone mass in all vertebrae apart from the atlas. The body supports most of the weight of the tissues of the neck and head. It is also very effective in boosting the vertebral.
Intervertebral disks - These are essential in providing slight flexibility to the neck. They are made of rubbery fibro cartilage and they lie between the vertebral bodies.
Flattened facets - These are essential in allowing movement among the vertebrae. They form joints with the skull and neighboring vertebrae.
Other Features of C3 to C7 Vertebrae
1. Laminae- These are usually thinner and narrow above than below.
2. The pedicles-These are attached backward and laterally. They are usually attached to the body midway between the lower and upper boarders. This makes the superior vertebra notch deeper than inferior.
3. The lower surface is usually convex from side to side and concave from front to back. They present shallow concavities which receives the corresponding lips of the underlying vertebra.
4. The upper surface is concave transversely and presents a projecting lip on either side.
In conclusion, the Cervical vertebrae are essential in maintaining straight spine and good body posture. They are also paramount in providing attachment for neck muscles.They also provide excellent flexibility that allows the neck and head to extend and rotate. Without the cervical vertebrae, you'd be a gelatinous mass, quivering on the floor, so be thankful for C1 to C7!
Here's the icing on the cake, a video that graphically shows what is stated above: