The cervical spine, or upper spine, consists of the seven cervical vertebrae. These vertebrae (commonly known as the neck vertebrae) provide support for the head while protecting the top of the spinal cord. The vertebrae within this area are smaller and more flexible than the lower vertebrae, allowing for a wide range of movement by the head and neck.
The cervical spine is where the two major components of the central nervous system – the brain and the spinal cord – make their connection. The top vertebra, known as the Atlas, is located just beneath the occipital bone at the back of the skull. The second vertebra, known as the Axis, provides a pivot point for the Atlas, allowing the head to rotate, nod, or bend side to side. Altogether, the seven cervical vertebrae are abbreviated as C1-C7.
The eight sets of nerve roots originating from the cervical spine are similarly abbreviated as C1-C8. The cervical nerve roots are responsible for sending sensory impulses to the following parts of the body:
- Head (C1, C2)
- Neck (C1, C2)
- Diaphragm (C3)
- Shoulders (C4)
- Arms (C4, C7)
- Wrists (C5, C6)
- Hands (C8)
Neck pain can arise if the cervical spine is injured in an accident or damaged by normal wear and tear. If a nerve root within the upper spine has become compressed or irritated by a condition such as spinal stenosis, a patient might experience pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in the area that receives sensory impulses from the effected nerve. Most of the time, these symptoms can be managed using conservative treatments such as pain medication, exercise, and physical therapy.
Occasionally, your doctor may present surgery as an option for a cervical spine condition. Fortunately, the award-winning surgeons at Laser Spine Institute (LSI) are here to provide an alternative to traditional open-back surgery. If you’ve experience chronic back or neck pain, contact LSI to discover how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure can help you regain your life.