Cervical Spine Definition

Depiction of a cervical spine, including the atlanto axial joint at the top of the neck.
Depiction of a cervical spine, including the atlanto axial joint at the top of the neck.. MediaForMedical/UIG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Cervical Spine Definition

The cervical spine is the area of the vertebral column commonly referred to as the neck. It is made up of seven vertebrae, each referred to by 'C,' appended with an identifying number. The number indicates the level of the cervical spine in which the particular vertebra is located. The cervical spine is often called the C-spine for short.  An example of the cervical vertebra naming conventions is the seventh cervical vertebra.

 It is called C7, or C-7.

Cervical Spine Curve

Every area of the spine has a curve.  Spinal curves go in alternate directions (when viewing the body from the side.)  The cervical spine has a normal lordosis which means from a side view, the curve is directed  towards the front of the body.  The lumbar spine also has a normal lordosis, while the thoracic spine and sacrum have normal kyphoses.  A kyphotic curve is one that is directed towards the back of the body, when you view the body from the side.

Cervical Spine Injuries

Cervical spine injuries run the gamut from mild to life altering or even lethal, and have a number of potential causes.  Often one problem with your neck will by nature include some of the others.  This is mostly because when you injure a spinal structure, the soft tissue in the area will likely be affected, as well.  For example, a herniated disc in the cervical spine may lead to neck and shoulder muscle spasms, and whiplash may result in sprained spinal ligaments.

Related: Soft Tissue

From neck cricks to muscle strain and ligament sprain, most cervical spine injuries are to the soft tissue only.  Soft tissue injuries tend to be easier to heal and recover from,because they usually don't require surgery.Instead, a course of physical therapy may help you move past the injury.

 But if, after 6 weeks of physical therapy, your symptoms persist, your doctor may suggest an injection (possibly a spinal epidural) to help relieve the pain.

But certain types of cervical spine injuries can be very serious.  These are fractures, dislocations and spinal cord injury.  Grade IV ligament sprains or muscle strains are also considered to be serious.  Other cervical spine injuries include herniated disc, Grade III strains and sprains, stingers and burner (usually an athletic injury that is temporary but can be severe, warranting medical attention.)

Researchers from the United Kingdom prospectively examined a large number of records of patients (over 250,000) who experienced major trauma to find out how many of them sustained cervical spine injuries.  They learned that the rate of c-spine injury was 3.5%; being male, 35 years old or older, having sustained severe facial fractures, experienced a dangerous injury mechanism, lowered systolic blood pressure and/or a lowered Glasgow Coma Score increased the risk.

And finally, cervical spine can develop degenerative changes that may lead to arthritis and stenosis.  These changes are usually, but not always, related to advancing age.

Related: Common Neck Injuries


Hasler R., Exadaktylos A., Bouamra O., Benneker L., Clancy M., Sieber R., Zimmermann H., Lecky F. Epidemiology and predictors of cervical spine injury in adult major trauma patients: a multicenter cohort study. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. April 2012. Accessed Feb 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22491614

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