Typical cervical vertebrae

Of the seven cervical vertebrae, C3 through C6 have typical anatomy, while C7 looks very similar. C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis) have very distinct anatomical features. For a basic anatomic description of the structure a generic vertebra, see vertebrae.

Gross anatomy

  • small, oval-shaped vertebral bodies
  • relatively wide vertebral arch with large vertebral foramen
  • relatively long, bifid (except for C7) inferiorly pointing spinous processes
  • transverse foramina protecting the vertebral arteries and veins

Anterior components of the typical cervical vertebra :

  • body
  • posterolateral lip (uncus)
  • pedicle
  • transverse process
    • anterior and posterior tubercle of the transverse process
    • intertubercular lamella of the transverse process
    • foramen of the transverse process

Posterior components of the typical cervical vertebra :

  • lamina
  • bifid spinous process
  • superior articular process
  • inferior articular process
  • intervertebral disc (superior and inferior): interposed between hyaline cartilage on the centrum of the vertebral bodies
  • uncovertebral joint : the superior surface of the vertebra below curves upward to form a hyaline covered lip. The lip articulates with the inferior bevelled surface of the vertebra above; this occurs bilaterally, and thus the intervertebral foramen in cervical vertebrae is bordered anteriorly by both the cervical vertebrae from above and below (as opposed to above alone)
  • facet (zygapophyseal) joint: articular processes lie at the junction of the pedicle and lamina, and the articular surface can be viewed as a cylinder sliced obliquely
    • upper facets face obliquely up and back
    • lower facets face down and forward

Blood supply

Variant anatomy

  • variable presence of bifid spinous processes
  • variable length of spinous processes
  • blocked or fused vertebrae
  • accessory transverse foramina

Radiographic features

Plain radiograph
  • lateral view: if the patient is supine, this view will allow for all 7 vertebrae to be seen
  • swimmers view: another lateral view where the patient will have one arm up and one down ; provides views of the cervicothoracic junction
  • AP view
  • AP open mouth: allows for assessment of C1 and C2 alignment and the dens
  • oblique view: for facet joints and intervertebral foramina

Related pathology