The cervical spine consists of 7 vertebrae that are separated from one another by intervertebral disks and connected by a complex network of ligaments. (See Figures 1-4.) It can be best visualized as consisting of an anterior and a posterior column. The anterior column is formed by vertebral bodies and disks held in alignment by the anterior and posterior longitudinal ligaments. The posterior column contains the spinal canal, which is formed by the pedicles, transverse processes, articulating facets, laminae, and spinous processes. It is held in alignment by the nuchal ligament complex, the capsular ligaments, and the ligamentum flavum. If both columns are disrupted, the spine will move as 2 separate pieces thus jeopardizing the integrity of the spinal cord. In contrast, if only 1 column is disrupted the other column resists further movement, and the likelihood of a spinal cord injury is less. The vertebral artery travels through the foramen transversarium throughout the course of the cervical spine. Because of the lack of intrinsic bony stability, integrity of the ligamentous anatomy is essential.
Lisa Freeman Grossheim; Kevin Polglaze; Rory Smith
April 2, 2009