Cervical vertebrae

Seven vertebrae form the cervical part of the vertebral column between the skull and the thorax. Typical cervical vertebrae are characterized mainly by their small size and the presence of a foramen in each transverse process (aka transverse foramen). Spinal processes are typically short and bifid.


  • There are 7 cervical vertebrae.
  • Typical cervical vertebrae can be identified by a transverse foramen and a bifid (divided) spinous process
  • The spinous processes of most cervical vertebrae are covered by the thick nuchal ligament.
  • The highest palpable vertebra is C7, known as the vertebra prominens.
  • The first 2 cervical vertebrae, the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2) are distinctive. 
  • The atlas articulates with the occipital condyles of the skull. It has no body and there is no intervertebral disc between C1 and C2. The structural features of these vertebrae allow for a great degree of movement of the upper neck and head. The atlantooccipital joints allow flexion and extension of the head such as in nodding your head "yes". 
  • The axis has a specialized projection called the dens (or odontoid process which articulates with the atlas. The atlantoaxial joint allows for rotation of the head as in shaking your head "no".