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Cervical vertebrae (Vertebrae cervicales) are the smallest of the true vertebrae, and can be readily distinguished from those of the thoracic or lumbar regions by the presence of a foramen (hole) in each transverse process.
The first, second, and seventh cervical vertebrae present exceptional features and must be separately described, though the other four have common characteristics.
Side view of a typical cervical vertebra
These are the general characteristics of the third through sixth cervical vertebrae.
The first, second, and seventh vertebrae are extraordinary, and detailed later.
The body of these four vertebrae is small, and broader from side to side than from front to back.
The anterior and posterior surfaces are flattened and of equal depth;
the former is placed on a lower level than the latter, and its inferior border is prolonged downward, so as to overlap the upper and forepart of the vertebra below.
The upper surface is concave transversely, and presents a projecting lip on either side;
the lower surface is concave from front to back, convex from side to side, and presents laterally shallow concavities which receive the corresponding projecting lips of the underlying vertebra.
The pedicles are directed laterally and backward, and are attached to the body midway between its upper and lower borders, so that the superior vertebral notch is as deep as the inferior, but it is, at the same time, narrower.
The laminae are narrow, and thinner above than below; the vertebral foramen is large, and of a triangular form.
The spinous process is short and bifid, the two divisions being often of unequal size. The superior and inferior articular processes on either side are fused to form an articular pillar, which projects laterally from the junction of the pedicle and lamina.
The articular facets are flat and of an oval form:
the superior look backward, upward, and slightly medially;
the inferior forward, downward, and slightly laterally.
The transverse processes are each pierced by the foramen transversarium, which, in the upper six vertebrae, gives passage to the vertebral artery and vein , as well as a plexus of sympathetic nerves.
Each process consists of an anterior and a posterior part.
The anterior portion is the homologue of the rib in the thoracic region, and is therefore named the costal process or costal element.
It arises from the side of the body, is directed laterally in front of the foramen, and ends in a tubercle, the anterior tubercle.
The posterior part, the true transverse process, springs from the vertebral arch behind the foramen, and is directed forward and laterally;
it ends in a flattened vertical tubercle, the posterior tubercle.
These two parts are joined, outside the foramen, by a bar of bone which exhibits a deep sulcus on its upper surface for the passage of the corresponding spinal nerve.
First cervical vertebra (Atlas)
Note: For more information, see Atlas (anatomy)
The first cervical vertebra is named for the Atlas of mythology, because it supports the globe of the head.
The Atlas is the topmost vertebra, and – along with the Axis – forms the joint connecting the skull and spine.
Its chief peculiarity is that it has no body, and this is due to the fact that the body of the atlas has fused with that of the next vertebra.
Second cervical vertebra (Axis)
Note: For more information, see Axis (anatomy)
The second cervical vertebra (C2) of the spine is named the axis or epistropheus.
It forms the pivot upon which the first cervical vertebra (the Atlas), which carries the head, rotates.
The most distinctive characteristic of this bone is the strong odontoid process which rises perpendicularly from the upper surface of the body.
The body is deeper in front than behind, and prolonged downward anteriorly so as to overlap the upper and front part of the third vertebra.
Seventh cervical vertebra
Seventh cervical vertebra
The most distinctive characteristic of this vertebra is the existence of a long and prominent spinous process, hence the name vertebra prominens.
This process is thick, nearly horizontal in direction, not bifurcated, but terminating in a tubercle to which the lower end of the ligamentum nuchae is attached.
The transverse processes are of considerable size, their posterior roots are large and prominent, while the anterior are small and faintly marked;
the upper surface of each has usually a shallow sulcus for the eighth spinal nerve, and its extremity seldom presents more than a trace of bifurcation.
The foramen transversarium may be as large as that in the other cervical vertebrae, but is generally smaller on one or both sides;
occasionally it is double, sometimes it is absent.
On the left side it occasionally gives passage to the vertebral artery;
more frequently the vertebral vein traverses it on both sides;
but the usual arrangement is for both artery and vein to pass in front of the transverse process, and not through the foramen.
Sometimes the anterior root of the transverse process attains a large size and exists as a separate bone, which is known as a cervical rib.
- Gray's Anatomy: The Cervical vertebrae - The 1917 Gray's Anatomy is available via the Bartleby project. It is available with full colour diagrams, and provides an excellent starting point in anatomy, as well as a relatively complete source for gross anatomy . This article is copied and pasted from the 1917 Gray's Anatomy, which is in the public domain.