Cervical spine — basic anatomy and treatment for neck pain

The cervical (upper) spine consists of seven vertebrae. These cervical 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.

Anatomy of the cervical spine

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 to C7.

The eight sets of nerve roots originating from the cervical spine are similarly abbreviated as C1 to 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 and the cervical spine

Neck pain can arise if the cervical spine is injured in an accident or damaged by normal wear and tear. If a nerve root or the spinal within the upper spine has become compressed or irritated by a condition such as spinal stenosis, a patient may experience pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in the area that receives sensory information from the affected nerve.

Often, these symptoms can be managed using conservative treatments such as pain medication, exercise and physical therapy. A doctor can recommend these conservative treatments after diagnosing the cause of your neck pain.

If these conservative treatments prove ineffective after a few months, your doctor may present surgery as an option for a cervical spine condition.

The minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute provides patients an alternative to traditional open neck surgery. Depending on the severity of your condition, we may recommend our minimally invasive decompression surgery or our minimally invasive stabilization surgery. Both types of procedures are performed through a small incision and offer patients a lower risk of complication and infection and a shorter recovery time^ compared to traditional open neck surgery. Take the next step on your journey to pain relief and contact Laser Spine Institute today.

We can review your MRI report or CT scan at no cost to you* to determine if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.