The C1 vertebra

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) or 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 joint. 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 figure from Greek mythology that held the world on his shoulders.

How the C1 vertebra is different

As with each of the cervical vertebrae, the foramina — openings in the bone that allow the nerve roots to exit — are larger and located further toward the posterior. This position 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 protrusion sticks up into the opening in the middle of the C1 to create a rotary joint, which is a freely moving joint where movement is limited to rotation.

Problems and treatment

Obviously, the added motion of the cervical spine in general, and these two joints in particular, creates added stress on the spinal 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. When these degenerative spine conditions cause nerve compression, you can experience severe pain and lack of movement in the neck, among other symptoms. If left untreated, these symptoms can seriously reduce your quality of life.

If you are experiencing chronic neck pain, consult your physician to receive a proper diagnosis. You will likely then begin a series of conservative treatment methods, such as pain medication, physical therapy, exercises, lifestyle changes, etc. If these options fail to relieve your neck pain and other symptoms, your physician may recommend surgery. Before electing to undergo a highly invasive traditional open neck surgery, consider minimally invasive spine surgery from Laser Spine Institute.

At Laser Spine Institute, our expert team of spine surgeons has the experience and knowledge to treat spinal conditions without larger risks of infection and complication associated with traditional open back surgery. In fact, our surgeons perform more minimally invasive spine procedures than any other spine center in the world and have helped more than 60,000 patients find relief from their neck and back pain to date. To receive more information about our minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures, contact us today to speak to one of our Spine Care Consultants.