Know Your Neck: The Cervical Spine

By learning about the parts of the neck, you can better understand your neck problem. The bones of the neck are called cervical vertebrae, commonly identified as C1 through C7. Together, they form a bony column called the spine. Vertebrae also protect the spinal cord, a pathway for messages to reach the brain. Surrounding the spine are soft tissues, such as muscles, tendons, and nerves.

Side view of cervical spine with lowest vertebra in cross section to show spinal cord.

Flexibility is key

For the neck to function normally, it has to be flexible enough to move without discomfort. A healthy neck can move easily in six different directions.

Side view of man tilting head forward and backward.
Flexion and extension move the head forward and backward.

Front view of man rotating head from side to side.
Rotation turns the head from left to right, with the chin over the shoulders.

Front view of woman tilting head towards one shoulder, then the other.
Lateral bending moves the head from side to side.

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