Cervical Spine Anatomy Basics


In this blog, we’ll describe the components of cervical spine anatomy, including the vertebrae, ligaments, nerves, veins, and arteries that make up the neck.

The primary function of the cervical spine is the mobility, support and protection of spinal canal and neural structures. The cervical spine is made up of:

  • 7 vertebrae
  • 6 intervertebral discs
  • 8 pairs of exiting nerve roots

The vertebrae are C1-C7. The primary motion at the C1-C2 joint is rotation.

Occiput-C1 Segment

These are the parts of atypical vertebral structure C1 (atlas):

  • Vertebral canal/foramen
  • Anterior arch
  • Anterior tubercle
  • Transverse process
  • Posterior arch
  • Transverse foramen
  • Lateral mass

The occiput-C1 joints are synovial joints comprising the convex occipital condyles, which articulate with the concave lateral masses of C1.

Motion at the occiput-C1 segment is restricted primarily to flexion-extension due to bony structures, ligamentous constraints and the absence of an intervertebral disc.

These are the parts of atypical cervical vertebra C2 (axis):

  • Odontoid process or dens
  • Vertebral canal/foramen
  • Facet joints
  • Transverse process
  • Transverse foramen
  • Bifid spinous process
  • Lamina

The odontoid process of the axis (C2) extends cranially to form the axis of rotation with atlas (C1).


The cervical spine also features a complex arrangement of ligaments to supplement its structure and mobility. Ligaments in the cervical spine include the following:

  • Anterior longitudinal ligament
  • Posterior longitudinal ligament
  • Ligamentum flavum
  • Intertransverse ligaments
  • Interspinous ligaments
  • Ligamentum nuchae

Neural Elements

The cervical spine includes eight pairs of cervical nerves. They exit the spinal canal superior to the vertebrae for which they are numbered:

  • C1 nerves exit the canal between the occiput and C1
  • C2 nerves exit the canal between C1 and C2


The cervical spine houses the carotid and vertebral arteries. The carotid arteries are located anterior and bilateral to the spine. The vertebral arteries enter the transverse foramen at C6 and continue through C1.


Inside the cervical spine you’ll also find the jugular veins and vertebral veins. The jugular veins are located bilateral and anterior to the spine. The vertebral veins are located within the transverse foramen of C1 through C7.

If you have questions about cervical spine injury or think you might need surgery for neck pain, consult an orthopedic specialist. They can provide a diagnosis and determine the best surgical or non-operative treatment for your specific issue.  Also make sure to read our FAQ on spine surgery.

If you’re going to have spinal surgery, there are steps you can take to be prepared for a successful procedure and recovery.