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Neck Anatomy Pictures Bones, Muscles, Nerves

Neck Anatomy PicturesThe purpose of the spine is to support the body so that we can stand upright. Secondarily, it protects the spinal cord (which is the extension of the brain) and all of the nerves that branch from the spinal cord.  

The cervical spine (neck), specifically, supports the weight of your head, allows you to look straight head, and protects the spinal cord and nerves.  

Read on to learn more about the anatomy of the cervical spine. 

Muscles of the Neck:

Neck Anatomy Muscles Pictures

Neck Anatomy Muscles Pictures

There are many muscles around the neck that help to support the cervical spine and allow you to move your head in different directions.

Here is a list of the many muscles that exist in the neck. 

Longus Colli & Capitis – Responsible for flexion of the head and neck.

Rectus Capitis Anterior– Responsible for flexion of the neck

Rectus Capitis Lateralis– Helps the neck to bend to the side.

Scalene Muscles – Responsible for lifting the first and second ribs i.e. assist with breathing

Levator Scapulae – Responsible for movement of the scapula (shoulder blade) in an upward and downward motion.

Rectus Capitis Lateralis –  Allows the neck to flex from side to side.

Obliques Capitis Superior–  Allows the neck to extend and flex to the side. 

Obliques Capitis Inferior– Assist with head / neck rotation

Cervical Spine (Neck Bones):

Neck Nerves picture

Bones of the Neck Picture

Cervical spine anatomy is quite complex. We will attempt to provide a simplified overview of this complex anatomy.

There are seven cervical vertebrae that allow for a great amount of motion in the neck. 

When looking from behind, in most individuals, the spine looks straight. However, when viewing the spine from the side, there are distinct curves to each part of the spine. The purpose of these curves is to grant some additionally flexibility and shock absorbing abilities to the spine. 

In the cervical region, the spine normally curves backwards.  This curvature is known as a lordosis.  The amount of lordosis an individual has varies, but typically is somewhere in the range of 20-40 degrees. There are many conditions of the spine that may affect the normal curvature of the cervical spine, resulting in pain and disability. Some of these conditions are listed at the end of this article. 

Similar to the rest of the spine (thoracic and lumbar), each of the vertebra of the cervical spine consists of a body, two pedicles, lamina, and multiple bony projections (called processes). The vertebrae of the cervical spine are the smallest of the spine as they only support the weight of the head. The processes serve as attachment points for various ligaments and muscles that are important to the stability of the spine. 

The cervical spine consists of 7 vertebra that are numbered 1 through 7 from top to bottom i.e. C1, C2, C3, C4, etc.  While in the thoracic and lumbar spine, the anatomy of the vertebrae is relatively consistent between each vertebra, cervical spine anatomy is quite variable. A description of each of the vertebrae follows: 

C1 – Called the atlas. The skull rests directly on it. This is the uppermost of the cervical vertebrae. It is ring shaped in structure. About 50% of flexion/extension in the neck occurs at the C1 / occiput (skull) joint. 

C2- Called the axis. It has a specialized process called the dens which acts as a pivot point on which the atlas (C1) turns on.  About 50% of rotation in the neck occurs between C1-C2 at the atlanto-axial joint. 

C3- C7- The vertebrae in this area are very much like the rest of the spinal column in their structure. The rest of neck motion occurs equally between each of these vertebral levels. 

Nerves within the Cervical Spine:

Neck Anatomy Nerves Picture

Neck Anatomy Nerves Picture

There are 8 spinal nerves that originate from the cervical spine. 

The majority of these nerves control the functions of the upper extremities and allow you to feel your arms, shoulder, and back of your head.  Each nerve provides sensation to a specific area of the body called a dermatome. 

Perhaps most importantly, several of the nerves that originate in the cervical spine control the diaphragm, the muscle that allows us to breathe.  As such, if the neck is severely injured, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Conditions of the Cervical Spine

  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cervical Stenosis
  • Cervical Radiculopathy
  • Cervical Disc herniation
  • Cervical Myelopathy
  • Ossified Posterior Longitudinal Ligament
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease


  1. Bebee Wallace says

    To start out with. Fell, top of my forehead. I hit corner of my bunk, fore head struck the wooden kinda pointed bunk foot post. When hitting I had hit the foot boards pointed edge. This in turn made my my neck pop all the way down. Not sure name of muscle that starts at the bottom this mess. Been looking cant find name of muscle that goes up right side to base of skull. I’ll turn my head to look at something and that muscle hits and severe pain associated with this pop. Muscle pop not bone pot. Is it possible for this neck muscle to mend it self?? When it pulls or a muscle union is its severe pain. Loud tv or raidio aggrivates this muscle. Does that sound like something. I wore neck brace after my discharge from hosp. Now I get activated muscle pain . I have scoliosis, osteoporosis, padgets problems. What can a neorosurgeon do for this problem . my ❤ 🐎 needs back on his training and start his foundation work.
    My horse is kinda green on leg cues. MRI say that my facets are grossare grossly aligned. There does appear a linear defect involving the right anterior arch of C1 and the right lateral mass. The MRI findings is very limited. There is no significant surrounding soft tissue
    So very technically study with findings are suggestive of a right C1 fracture as discussed.

  2. Patricia Northup says

    I have swelling in my right side of my neck. It goes up to behind my ear. Painful to touch.when I eat it get worse and causes a small headache.

  3. Hadi awadh aljabry says

    I have problem with my neck from behind if I move my head front and back, when I move back I fill pain behind my upper check from neck I fill something had. Please can you advace me for this problem.

  4. Gloria Van Edo says

    I always get tence around my Neck shouwder and spinal cord from the sounds of loud noises what could have been the cause of this please.

  5. robert morris says

    I recently woke up with a sore neck. when I rotate my head it clicks like something is out of its socket. what could be wrong, and can this be fixed?

  6. Mrs Bozena Masliczek says

    I have pain on left side of neck, hard and pain to move head up and down or sideways. On lying down my whole head has to have cold on it,,I put ice packs. My face and jaw burns with pain also.. I have cervical spinal stenosis.. c5,6 and 7.. I had cortisone inj on my head, left and right side. It still hurts . What can. I do…

  7. Have developed a small swelling on the neck, just below the ear lobe, and at the jawbone hinge. Slight pain when pressed and when twisting neck left/right.


    I was operated 3 years ago from my neck and got 3 bones removed it is the most painful feeling a human will ever experience I now have titanium plates&roades w/ nummness on both arm& secure pain for the rest of my life ,but I had been told that I had week bones as a child but I Dont even wish this on my worst enemy/ if you have any type of pain on your neck please & I mean please get it check out I am sup post to be parilize from my neck Down but only the good Lord Jesus Christ gave me a second chance at life ,thank you & please get it checkout / you might not be as lucky as I was thank you & GOD-BLESS YOU ALL . . . . .

  9. My significant other, who is 70, has had a posture problem for years. For the past year, his head leans to the left. He said it hurts to straighten his head. (rt. side). Question? What specialist should he see?

  10. My neck hurts really badly I was hoping for some advice it’s on my left side in the back almost even with my ear

  11. Mary frennette says

    Jason – I am no doctor. The cervical 6-7 goes down your arm. Why they ever did surgery on your arm is beyond me when they were aware you had a neck injury.? Took 10 years to triceps , forearm and thumb and finger got weak as well. Got re-injured and now am unable to exercise as I have other spinal issues and do not have pain medications so am now housebound. They flipped up doing surgeries on your arm

  12. Sylvia Meraviglia says

    I had an episode where my neck got swollen/engorged where I was not able to hold my head up. I could not even move because of excruciating pain. I had to wear a hooded jacket and used the hood to hold my head upright. One strange thing is I felt air swish from my neck like an exhaust, (very strange). I live alone, had to wait two days for the swelling to subside, so I can go to urgent care. When the doctor saw me, the swelling had subsided, but still painful. It was diagnosed as muscle spasm. But I never found out the cause.

  13. I have a bone below the middle-back of my neck. It’s like a round-pointy bone and I don’t know if this is normal

  14. I have a small lump on the lower right side of my throat. It is very tender to the touch. I have pain from my right eye to the top of my head. What kind of dr. do I need to go to?

  15. Dennis swaggerty says

    I have had herniated disc surgery on my c5 a year and half ago..4 months ago I experienced a sharp pain in the left side of my neck about half ways.. now I have a dead arm with severe neck pain and it goes down the back of my neck and shoulder with the left side of my face trying to go to sleep sometimes… I take 3 Percocet 10 a day and they don’t numb the pain

  16. Jason Harwood says

    I’ve got a c6 and c7 smashed. Loosing feeling in my arms, had 4 surgerys on my arms. Now they tell me it could be from my neck. Holy hell I’m not going to keep the weekly doctor appointments and never get a straight answer.

  17. Twesiraturora claude says

    very interesting notes

  18. Okoro Happiness says

    I feel pains beside the left side of my throat. It’s not swollen but wen i touch it,Its like the vein or tissue pains at yesterday it made me feel weak and gives me slight headache and a little or no temperature. I can eat well,I swallow easily without pain I can turn my neck back and forth easily as well. But could be the problem , can anyone please relate to this?

  19. Betty Blair says

    I fell presonally onto my right side onto ahard concrete floor. I survived, however, I was dizzy for awhile and anytime I ate caused my frontal lobe to feel as if there was a cover put over that part of my body……….also, when I ate anythiing or drank water I felt this same reaction. I’ve finally got over that, however, my neck muscles are very sore when I try to turn my head……..and my head makes me feel heavy at times and almost dizzy again. Hard to explain. I’m thinking my neck muscles prevent me from becoming able to feel normal when I walk or stand. I feel better when I rest my head on a pillow. I’m thinking my neck muscles that are still sore prevents me from getting better…not sure if I shoud get them xrayed or what….or do these neck muscles are injured?

  20. Joyce E Raybourn says

    I have 3 bulging disk that is lower part of my top spine why am I having popping noise when I turn my head and pain goes up to my head and down my back and arms .

  21. Good

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