Cervical Spine: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Cervical Spine Definition and Meaning

The term "cervical spine" refers to the uppermost segment of the spine that’s located in the neck. The cervical spine starts at the base of the skull and ends at the top of the back (thoracic spine). It’s made up of seven vertebrae, labeled C1 to C7.

The cervical spine provides structural support to the skull and protects the spinal cord as it exits the brain. It’s also responsible for giving your neck its full range of motion, including rotation, flexion, and extension.

Anatomy of the Cervical Spine

The cervical spine consists of seven vertebrae, each separated by flat, round discs that act as shock absorbers:

  • C1 (Atlas): This vertebra allows for the nodding motion of the head. It’s ring-like and supports the skull.

  • C2 (Axis): Characterized by a peg-like structure called the odontoid process or dens, it allows for the rotation of the head.

  • C3-C6: These small vertebrae enable flexion, extension, and some degree of rotation.

  • C7 (Vertebra Prominens): This vertebra is easily palpable at the base of the neck and serves as a transition to the thoracic (top half of the back) spine.

These vertebrae are also surrounded by ligaments and muscles that provide additional stability and flexibility.

Common Cervical Spine Issues

The spine has a big job — not only does it provide structural support for the entire body, but it’s also responsible for the flexibility we need to move and bend in so many ways. As a result, it’s incredibly durable and resilient with built-in shock absorbers that usually help us manage impact and pressure without pain. Still, certain issues can arise in the cervical spine that cause neck pain, including:

  • Herniated discs: This occurs when the center of one (or more) of the flat, round discs that are located between vertebrae in the spine pushes against the outer ring, which can cause pain. However, it’s common to have herniated discs without any discomfort. 

  • Cervical spondylosis: This condition naturally occurs with age as the discs and joints in the cervical spine change over time. This can lead to stiffness, pain, and reduced range of motion in the neck.

  • Cervical stenosis: This involves the narrowing of the spinal canal, which can irritate the spinal cord and nerve roots, causing stiffness along with tingling or numbness that travels down to the arms, hands, legs, and feet.

Cervical Spine in Daily Life

The health and functionality of the cervical spine are crucial in daily activities. It aids in your ability to turn your head, look up or down, and maintain a proper posture. If you’ve injured your neck, exercises and stretches can help you regain function and mobility so your neck is able to move through a full range of motion without pain.

Cervical Spine: A Hinge Health Perspective

While injuries that affect the cervical spine can be frustrating and feel limiting, there’s a lot you can do to improve the function and flexibility of your neck with targeted stretches and exercise. In physical therapy, one of the most important goals is to help restore function and health so you can improve your quality of life and get back to the activities you enjoy. Often, exercises and stretches that focus on the neck (and the muscles and ligaments that support it) can help because they’re designed to improve mobility and function. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Park, D.K. September 2021. Neck Pain. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/neck-pain/ 

  2. Kaiser, J. T., Reddy, V., & Lugo-Pico, J. G. October 6, 2020. Anatomy, Head and Neck: Cervical Vertebrae. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539734/ 

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