Anatomy of Cervical Spine

The human vertebral column has five distinct regions, including cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal. The cervical spine is crucial due to its proximity to the head and contains seven vertebrae, ligaments, and muscles that allow for a wide range of head and neck movements.

Additionally, cervical vertebrae have intervertebral disks for shock absorption and flexibility. The cervical region also has a wider spinal canal to accommodate the spinal cord, nerve roots, blood vessels, and meninges.


Typically, each vertebra of the spinal column consists of a body, spinous process, vertebral foramen, paired transverse processes, as well as superior and inferior articular facets on either side. The cervical vertebrae are anatomically unique compared to other areas of the spine.

Bifid spinous processes in the cervical vertebrae provide attachment space for the nuchal ligament, while triangular vertebral foramina accommodate the thicker cervical spinal cord. The cervical vertebrae possess transverse foramina on either side of the spine that transmit the vertebral arteries, which is a unique characteristic of this region.

Upper Cervical Spine (C1-C2)

The first two cervical vertebrae, atlas (C1) and axis (C2), are individually named because of their unique anatomical characteristics. Located at the junction between the base of the skull and the spinal column, they are part of the craniovertebral junction in the spine.

The atlas, which has a ring-like shape, does not have a body or spinous process, and therefore may not contribute to supporting the weight of the head. By working in unison, the atlas and axis enable rotational, flexion, and extension movements of the spine, rendering them the most pliable section of the entire vertebral column.

The atlas vertebra stands out for its unique structure, which takes the form of a ring without a vertebral body. It connects to the occiput above and the axis below via lateral masses that have corresponding condyles.

The odontoid process, also known as the dens, is a feature of the axis vertebra that emerged as a result of the fusion between the C1 body and the axis body, giving C2 its distinct identity. The median atlantoaxial joint enables the head to rotate freely without any need for the trunk to move.

Lower Cervical Spine (C3-C7)

The spinal column’s vertebral joints merge vertebral foramina to form the spinal canal, while intervertebral foramina are formed on each side of every vertebra pair. These foramina act as exit pathways for spinal nerve rootlets. C1-C7 rootlets exit the spinal canal through the superior notch of their corresponding cervical vertebrae, while C8 rootlets exit through the inferior notch of the C7 vertebra.

The spinal column’s vertebral joints merge vertebral foramina into a single canal referred to as the spinal canal, while intervertebral foramina are formed on each side of every vertebra pair. The neuroforamen or intervertebral foramen is formed by the superior and inferior notches of the corresponding vertebrae and serves as an exit pathway for the rootlets of spinal nerves.

The rootlets of the first seven pairs of cervical spinal nerves (C1-C7) exit the spinal canal through the superior notch of their corresponding cervical vertebrae, while the rootlets of the eighth pair (C8) exit through the inferior notch of the C7 vertebra.


The spinal column has several ligaments throughout its length, but the cervical spine has unique ligaments not found in other regions. Ligaments such as anterior and posterior longitudinal, ligamentum flavum, and interspinous are present at every vertebral level, while the nuchal ligament and transverse ligament of the atlas are exclusive to the cervical spine.

These cervical spine ligaments can be grouped as internal or external. Examples of external ligaments are the anterior atlantooccipital, atlanto-occipital, and anterior longitudinal ligaments. The internal ligaments include the transverse ligaments, accessory ligaments, alar ligaments, accessory atlantoaxial ligament, and tectorial membrane.

Intervertebral Discs

The intervertebral discs in the cervical spine enable spinal movement, support the weight transmission, and offer spinal stability. They consist of four components, namely the central nucleus pulposus, which is enclosed by the annulus fibrosus, and two end plates that are attached to the vertebrae’s body.

Movements of the Cervical Spine

50% of all cervical rotation occurs at the atlantoaxial joint. Additionally, the atlantoaxial occipital joint plays a role in 50% of neck flexion and extension. The cervical spine’s wide range of motion includes movements such as:

  • Flexion: The cervical spine undergoes forward bending, which occurs when the head is directed downward.
  • Extension: movement of the cervical spine where it bends backwards or straightens. For example, reaching upwards with the arms.
  • Rotation: One side rotation of the head and cervical spine, as when turning the head to the side to look at the shoulder.
  • Lateral flexion: bending the neck to the right or left side.

Functions of Cervical Spine

The cervical spine serves various functions in the head-neck region, such as:

  • Safeguarding the spinal cord: The cervical spine safeguards the spinal cord which extends from the brain stem and passes through the spinal canal in the vertebral column. It protects the spinal cord from external compression.
  • Supports the weight of the head: The weight of the head is supported by the cervical spine, which also maintains its position.
  • Supports the blood supply to the brain: The vertebral artery passes through the transverse foramen of the cervical spine and is supported in sending blood to the brain.
  • Supports Head-Neck movements: The neck muscles and cervical spine enable a broad range of motion in the neck region.

Blood Supply

The cervical region has both vertebral and carotid arteries, but only the vertebral arteries supply the spine through the cervical radicular arteries. The vertebral artery originates from the subclavian artery and passes through the foramen of the transverse process of C6 to enter the cervical region.

It then traverses through the cervical spine to reach the base of the skull. The basilar artery, which supplies the brainstem, is formed by the convergence of the vertebral arteries from both sides.

The right common carotid artery arises from the brachiocephalic artery, while the left common carotid artery originates from the aortic arch. At the level of the C3 vertebrae, the common carotid arteries bifurcate into the internal and external carotid arteries.


The cervical spine houses the spinal cord as it exits the skull and has two nerve roots on each side, the ventral root for motor signals and the dorsal root for sensory signals. There are eight cervical spinal nerves despite the presence of only seven cervical vertebrae, and each nerve exits adjacent to its corresponding vertebra except for C8, which exits caudally to the C7 vertebra.


The muscles that support and enable head and neck movements have their origin and insertion points on the cervical vertebrae. The erector spinae muscles, located in the deep back, run the entire length of the spine and attach to the spinous and transverse processes of the cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae on the posterior side.

These muscles aid in maintaining proper posture and contribute to the movements of the vertebral column, including flexion and extension. The muscles located in the posterior neck and suboccipital triangle are linked to the cervical vertebrae, allowing for neck extension, rotation, and lateral bending. These muscles comprise:

  • Suboccipital muscles:
    • Rectus capitis posterior major
    • Rectus capitis posterior minor
    • Oblique capitus supoerior
    • Oblique capitis inferior
  • Longissimus capitis
  • Semispinalis capitis
  • Semispinalis cervicus
  • Splenius capitis
  • Splenius cervicus

The muscles located in the front of the neck also have their origin at different points on the cervical vertebrae, and then attach to the skull or the first and second ribs. These muscles facilitate various movements of the neck, such as flexion, rotation, and lateral bending, and they also stabilize the skull:

  • Sternocleidomastoid (SCM)
  • Scalenes
  • Platysma

Physiological Variants

The presence of a bifid spinous process is not universal in all cervical vertebrae across individuals. Literature has indicated that only the cervical vertebrae C2-C4 consistently have a bifid spinous process.

The growth plate development is contributed by the secondary ossification centers present in the superior and inferior surfaces of the vertebral body. An interruption in this process can result in a significant developmental anomaly in the cervical vertebrae.

Surgical Considerations

Surgery for cervical spine problems needs careful consideration as important structures, including the trachea, esophagus, nerves, and blood vessels, surround the area.

Anterior and posterior approaches are two options for surgical interventions on the cervical spine. The anterior approach is appropriate for situations that require access to the vertebral body, as well as for addressing fractures, infections, tumor resection, and other conditions.

It is crucial to exercise proper hemostasis and retraction techniques during surgical interventions to avoid harm to the surrounding structures. Common complications include infections, hematoma formation, and abscesses.

Neurovascular or adjacent organ injuries are potential complications of cervical spine surgery that can cause dysphagia, dysphonia, or difficulty swallowing. Damage to the stellate ganglion located at the C6 level can lead to the presentation of Horner syndrome, which includes symptoms such as ptosis, anhidrosis, and miosis.

It is necessary to evaluate postoperative complications, and a lateral X-ray is typically performed to assess the presence and size of soft tissue swelling. To indicate a healthy inflammatory response, the size of swelling should not exceed specific limits at various spinal levels.

The cervical spine’s posterior elements can be accessed through the posterior approach, which is commonly used for standard procedures such as instrumentation, removal, and repair of the laminae. Fixation of pedicle screws through a posterior approach for C3 to C6 can be difficult because of the small size of the pedicles.

While a lateral approach is a more suitable choice, there is a risk of injuring the vertebral artery during the procedure, and when inserting a screw at C1, it should be angled medially to avoid this. Patients should be informed about the risk of restricted movement of the atlantoaxial joint resulting from any operative procedure that may involve or cause fusion of C1 and C2.

Clinical Significance

Neck pain is a prevalent disability, particularly among the elderly, with an annual prevalence rate exceeding 30%. Classification of neck pain can be based on the etiology (mechanical, neuropathic, or referred) or duration (acute, subacute, or chronic).

Neck pain is often linked to several rheumatologic conditions, including chronic rheumatoid arthritis. Prompt evaluation and treatment of the underlying cause of neck pain is crucial to prevent long-term disabilities.

Differentiation between neuropathic and mechanical neck pain can be done through proper history, examination, and investigations. X-ray is the initial imaging modality, but CT is superior, while MRI is useful for visualizing soft tissue injuries.

Traumatic or sports injuries often present as acute neck pain, which requires immediate stabilization to prevent long-term complications. Atlas fractures are a common type of fracture in the upper cervical spine, comprising around 2% of all vertebral fractures.

Fractures known as Jefferson fractures commonly occur at the anterior and posterior arches, which are the weakest points of the atlas. Treatment involves immobilization and cranial traction. They can also lead to injury to the transverse ligament and spinal cord, emphasizing the need for immediate treatment via occipital-cervical arthrodesis.

Fractures in the odontoid process may result from hyperflexion or extension, and spondylolisthesis may occur due to the displacement of one vertebra over another, leading to acute pain and neurological symptoms. A fracture called a hangman’s fracture may occur due to high-intensity. This kind of fracture is a severe injury that can lead to either death or complete paralysis of the body.

Chronic rheumatoid arthritis can cause atlantoaxial joint instability, while subacute or chronic neck pain in individuals over 40 years of age is often associated with degeneration, which may lead to compression of nerve roots and cervical radiculopathy.

Other causes of neuropathic pain include disc herniation and stenosis. Additionally, hyperextension during intubation can result in atlantoaxial subluxation, which can be followed by spinal shock.

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Dr. Nakul Karkare is awesome! And patriotic! Thank you, Dr. Karkare for displaying the American Flag in your waiting room, honoring and mourning our military personnel, this Memorial Day, who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
00:52 30 May 23
Excellent and skilled orthopedic practice specializing in joint replacements. Dr Karkare was trained at the Hospital for Special Surgery and has excellent results, as do his associates!! Would gladly refer family members to the practice!!
00:24 30 May 23
I had such a wonderful experience with Complete Orthopedics in Stony Brook. Not only did Dr. Kuo fix my broken wrist with such kindness and care, but the office staff, including Billing, Reception and the X-Ray Technician, was always so helpful, going out of their way to ensure that each patient felt welcome, answering any questions with a smile, and ensuring any issues with insurance/billing were handled with the utmost professionalism. I highly recommend their practice!
Victoria DeMatteo
19:49 10 May 23
I'm very happy St. Catherine's sent me to this office for treatment after I broke my collar bone! Unfortunately the break was too severe to repair on its own and I had to have it rebuilt a week after the injury. Dr. Vaksha did a great job fixing it. I'm three months out, and I have full use of the arm and shoulder. The whole office staff is very professional, accommodating, and welcoming. I hope to not need orthopedic services again, but Dr. Vaksha will be my number one choice if I or anyone in family suffers such am injury.
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20:42 08 May 23
No one likes going to the doctor. But these people make it painless. I go for knees, hips and shoulders. At almost 70 Complete Orthopedics keeps my active life style running smoothly. Whether chasing my Grandson and even surfing again, I highly recommend them!!
Thomas Slavin
15:02 02 Mar 23
Dr. Kuo knowledgeable and competent surgeon- very good experience and more importantly great result.
Joseph McCoy
21:23 25 Feb 23
Dr Vaksha was so kind and helpful. He took extra time with us and explained things so thoroughly. Highly recommend. Office very clean.
Susan Bosinius
20:20 19 Feb 23
Dr Vaksha, is a great doctor very professional knows what he talking about. Treat patient with upmost respect. Thank You
Troy Spencer
16:46 19 Jan 23
Dr. Karkare is an amazing doctor, very caring and attentive, the girl at the front desk is very kind and helpful. .elizabeth .thank you so much .
blanca ventura
21:32 26 Oct 22
Been going to this place before my accident and after I had my knee surgery. So happy how I been treated and how well I am getting. Thank you all and specially Dr. VAKSHA for everything and getting back on track.
Ita Opico
19:01 25 Oct 22
Love this place From the minute I called I was treated kindly. When I arrived The Dr saw me right away he was compassionate and ordered the appropriate tests for me. I came back in for my follow up and had the same great experience.
Christine Rostock
21:28 23 May 22
Dr Vaksha and Dr karkare are 2 of the best orthopedic doctors around my wife Susan had a very serious broken ankle in March of 2019 she didn't think she was going to walk again Dr vaksha did an excellent surgery on her ankle he said it was his toughest he ever did he put a lot of hardware in her ankle and told her she would be alright she made remarkable recovery thanks to his surgery as of now she regained 100 percent use of her ankle she would highly recommend him to anyone. My own experience with Dr karkare has been wonderful he takes his time with you listens to what you have to say and prescribes various treatments and is very caring I would highly recommend him to anyone I would give both doctors a 10 plus rating we are very happy with them the best.
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23:31 19 May 22
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Wayne Pemberton
17:39 18 May 22
The staff is very professional and helpful. Dr. Vaksha is excellent. He takes time to listen and offer suggestions to help you get better. I’m very thankful and happy to be a patient here at Complete Orthopedics.
Phoenix Rising
19:54 16 May 22
Dr.Karkare is the best. He listens to everything and explains everything I recommend him to everyone. I am so happy he is my doctor.
Myrna James
00:48 13 May 22
Dr.Kuo is amazing very attentive,caring,and passionate and staff is awsome too.Thank you for everything Dr.kuo.
Erick Murillo
23:17 12 May 22
I was in a car accident November 1 I was referred to Dr. Vaksha For shoulder surgery . I he was amazing he made me feel very comfortable and explained everything that was going to happen from surgery all the way through my physical therapy highly recommend Dr. Vaksha
Yolanda Ojeda
19:37 09 May 22
My appointment with Dr. Vaksha was amazing. Dr. Vaksha was very thorough and kind. I would refer this office to anyone who needs a great orthopedic doctor.
John Senechal
19:54 05 May 22
Scheduling my appointment was quick and easy. The staff was super friendly and down to earth. I was seen on time. The appropriate test, “x-rays” were taken before the conversation with doctor, something I really liked, test for analysis and conversation was done upfront. Dr. V had a great personality and was no BS, straight forward diagnosis and a play on next steps. I am happy I found them and would refer them to friends and family.
00:46 03 May 22
I have seen Dr. Kuo two times already and he's awesome along with his staff. Very friendly office and I'm glad to be a patient here.
Camaris A
20:01 28 Apr 22
Amazing team!! Very caring, profesional, and friendly!! Dr. Kevin Kuo, you are the best, very passionate, caring, and helping thank you for getting me better and being so kind to me! Elizabeth you the best thank you for you help always and you big smile and positive actitud❤️🙏🏼
breidy valerio
19:01 22 Apr 22
The staff is truly exceptional, they make you feel comfortable and welcomed. The doctors are amazing,always professional, compassionate and great listeners.
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03:25 09 Apr 22
What a great place! The place is clean and organized.The staff is wonderful. Setting up physical therapy is right there as well.I'm so glad I found this place.
Donna Anne
22:45 05 Apr 22
This was my 1st time breaking something in my 27 years on this planet. I was recommended here by a friend Dr. Vashka helped me from day 1 and still continues to check in on me and my healing ankle. Would highly recommend
tyron davis
16:06 01 Apr 22
Brand new office, same great doctors! Rooms are clean, plenty of parking, physical therapy attached, Dr. Karkare and his staff are awesome. Thank you!
Emily B
02:49 24 Mar 22
Dr.VAksha is the best, I love the way he treats me as his patient, he is caring,understanding and very attentive to my needs
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14:53 03 Mar 22
Great staff. Dr. Vaksha is awesome and takes the time to listen to his patients. He is very compassionate. I would highly recommend this office.
Bebe Doyle
01:24 23 Feb 22
After suffering from a severe ankle injury Dr. V was able to help me heal and return back to work completely to a job where I stand for 12 hours a day. The office is very clean and I appreciated the reminders of my appointments via phone call and through text. The patient portal made it easy for me to access all my documents including work notes. The office staff is wonderful and Rebecca was able to schedule me with a busy schedule and awesome at answering all of my questions including referring me to a great physical therapy office. I highly recommend this office to anyone who’s looking for knowledgeable and kind orthopedic office.
Elizabeth Birchwell
21:31 28 Jan 21
The staff here are great, I was seen at the time of my appointment and was well taken care of!
Shaun Berry
18:14 07 Jan 21
They are an excellent practice. The front and back office people are amazing and so helpful. Rebecca is such a kind and understanding person. I had an issue with paperwork and she cleared it right up. Dr. Karkare is very knowledgeable, helpful, and caring.
Matt S.
19:31 18 Nov 20
Rebecca K. - What a true burst of sunshine. Very friendly and definitely an asset to the practice!
Laura Aston
18:17 17 Nov 20
Great experience, the Doctor is nice but the staff is incredible. I worked with Linda, who was profession and assisted me beyond what any person has done at other practices. Complete Ortho should be complimented for having such a person on their staff.I highly recommend this place!!!
Joe Allen
17:26 17 Nov 20
Linda and Becca they are so good ever time I come they are very nice I would tell everyone I no to come to this office..
Barbara Victor
16:45 17 Nov 20
I was rear ended in an auto accident , Dr Vashka was recommended by a friend of mine .I was experiencing Back , neck , and shoulder pain . After a thorough examination and given exercises to do at home , I am feeling much better , and I ended up avoiding surgery . The staff at Complete Ortho is extremely attentive and show great care when making an appointment and are very friendly and i never waited more than 5 minutes for my appointment . So I would strongly recommend Complete Orthopedics for any aches and pains that one might be experiencing.....
Bill Becht
04:44 17 Nov 20
It was the afternoon of Friday Sept. 24. We were in Pt. Jefferson and my wife, Mary Ann, broke her hip. We went to Mather Hospital and it was determined that she would have to have an operation to have it repaired. This would be her third time under the knife in the past year. It just so happened that we were very fortunate enough to have Dr. Karkare, who was on standby, perform the surgery. He put in a rod and two screws in her hip. She spent a few days in the hospital and then went to Gurwin rehabilitee for another few weeks.It has now been almost six weeks and we both worked the election the other day. If it wasn’t for Dr. Karkare’s expertise she never would have been able to work. She is able to walk with a walker and is doing physical therapy three times a week.We can not thank the doctor enough for the compassion and dedication that he puts into his work. It allows Mary Ann do the things that she likes to do, even on a limited basis for a while. I know that with her will, perseverance and the great work that the surgeon performed she will be back on her feet in no time.Sincerely:John V. PlumpEast Northport, NY 11731
Jack Harris
14:36 06 Nov 20
In the year of 2018 I was referred to Dr. Karkare because I was experiencing severe knee joint pain. After exhausting physical therapy and trying to labor through the pain, I had to make a quality of life decision. Total knee replacement was the only viable option. Dr. Karkare made my decision easy as he walked me through the whole process from surgery to recovery.On 12/13/19 ( Friday the 13th) I enter Lenox Hill Hospital in great hands. From the time I entered Dr. Karkare’s office for the first time until now, his staff has been amazing. Andrea the medical coordinator walked me through all the paper work and necessary preparations for the surgery. Courtesy and kind would be an understatement. Dr. Karkare went over and beyond from the wellness checks and phone calls all to assure me that I was important to him. This was the right decision no pain and no limp. Complete Orthopedics should be your choice!
Kenneth Randolph
22:18 25 Sep 20
Dr. Vadshka has a great bedside manner. He really takes his time and explains treatment options.
T Lee
12:33 09 Sep 20
I suffered with pain in both knees for years. My orthopedic doctor kept recommending knee replacement . I fought it for years, as I was just afraid. When I had no choice and could barely walk , it was recommended I see Dr. Karkare. We set up a consultation and my wife and I left his office feeling totally confident and comfortable with moving ahead with the surgery. He explained everything to us, and the office staff set everything up for us and made the process easy. So about one month after our initial meeting I had the first knee done. I was up walking mere hours after the surgery, and on the workout machines the next morning. I went home two days after the surgery, and yes walked my daughter down the aisle at her wedding only one week after the surgery without even a cane! Three months later I had the other knee done and went home the very next day. Dr. Karkare put my fears to rest . I would highly recommend him. His expertise gave me my life back. Thank you Dr. Karkare.SincerelyVito Congro
Ethel Congo
23:58 12 Aug 20
Dr Rhodin really cares for his patients. When I see him he makes sure to review my progress in detail.
Micki Cahill
15:03 08 Feb 20
My mom had a total hip replacement by dr karkare. He is the BEST orthopedic doctor.Her incision is almost invisable.She is going back for her other hip next week. The office staff is the best, love Andrea.You wont find a better doctor.
Ryan Brigandi
21:06 13 Jul 18
There is no better Orthopedic doctor you will find. Broke my ankle three places on a Saturday. Called Dr. Karkare. He had is team ready at the hospital and operated on me within 6 hours after my injury. Now After 3 months of great care by him and his staff, I am walking to normalcy.
Spacecom Tel
04:13 23 Mar 18

I am Vedant Vaksha, Fellowship trained Spine, Sports and Arthroscopic Surgeon at Complete Orthopedics. I take care of patients with ailments of the neck, back, shoulder, knee, elbow and ankle. I personally approve this content and have written most of it myself.

Please take a look at my profile page and don't hesitate to come in and talk.