The C1 vertebra is the uppermost vertebra in the entire spine, located roughly on the same plane as the base of the nose. It is one of the most uniquely shaped vertebrae, in that it has no spinous process (the portion of the vertebrae that creates a ridge down the back nor a vertebral body (corpus vertebrae). It essentially forms a ring upon which the bottom bone of the skull—the occipital bone—rests and forms a join. The C1 vertebra sits, in turn, upon the C2 and forms a joint with it. Because the skull rests upon it, the C1 vertebra is commonly known as the atlas—named for the person from Greek mythology who held the world on his shoulders.
How the C1 vertebra is different
As with each of the cervical vertebrae, the foramina (plural of foramen) are larger and located further toward the posterior. This allows the vertebral arteries to run through them as well as the spinal nerve roots. The C1 vertebra also has a central opening that accommodates a prominent feature of the C2 vertebra: the dens. This significant protrusion sticks up into the opening in the middle of the C1 to create a rotary joint.
Problems and treatment
Obviously, the added motion of the cervical spine in general and these two joints in particular creates added stress on the intervertebral discs that reduce shock and friction on the vertebrae. Added stress means greater risk of degeneration or injury to those discs, which in turn creates a greater likelihood of a herniated disc, stenosis or arthritis.
At Laser Spine Institute, our expert team of spine surgeons has the experience and knowledge to treat spinal conditions without risks associated with traditional open back surgery. To arrange a free review of your CT scan or MRI results, or to get more information about our minimally invasive procedures, contact us today.