The occipital bone is part of the skull. It is located in the back of the head, directly above the neck.
The occipital bone is one of eight fused bones that surround the brain, the meninges (the triple-layer membrane encasing the brain and spinal cord), and the cerebrospinal fluid. Furthermore, the occipital bone contains a large hole in its center called the foramen magnum, literally meaning “large hole” in Latin. This hole is how the medulla oblongata, or the lower half of the brainstem, connects to the spinal cord. Thanks to this passageway, therefore, the brain and the spinal cord can communicate effectively with each other.
The occipital bone also connects with the very top of the spinal column. The first vertebra of the cervical spine (the uppermost region of the spine) is called the atlas (C1) vertebra. The occipital bone and the atlas come together to create a joint called the atlanto-occipital joint. This joint makes it possible for us to nod our heads up and down.
The vertebra directly underneath the atlas is called the axis (C2). After the atlas and axis, there are five more vertebrae in the cervical spine, for a total of seven vertebrae in that spinal region.
The cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine are all vulnerable to a range of spinal conditions that can cause neck pain, back pain, and disabling symptoms throughout the body. These painful, disabling symptoms are mainly caused by nerve compression. Common causes of spinal nerve compression and impingement can include the following:
- Bone spurs
- Herniated disc
- Bulging disc
- Degenerative disc disease
- Arthritis of the spine
- Spinal stenosis
- Foraminal stenosis
Luckily, spinal conditions from the occipital bone to the tailbone can be treated. Your physician may suggest options for relief, such as exercise, steroid injections, or prescription and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. If these treatments prove ineffective, your physician may also suggest conventional surgery. Laser Spine Institute (LSI) provides an alternative to traditional surgery. Our award-winning surgeons can help you rediscover a life without pain using minimally-invasive, outpatient procedures. Contact LSI today for more details and a free MRI or CT scan review.