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The cervical spine consists of seven vertebrae and is located at the base of the skull. Its function is to support the skull, enabling head movements back and forth, and from side to side, as well as protecting the spinal cord. The upper section of the cervical spine consists of the first cervical vertebrae (C1) and the second cervical vertebrae (C2). The lower section consists of the third cervical vertebrae (C3) through seventh cervical vertebrae (C7). These spinal bones attach to the thoracic spine and work together to support the head.

The sixth cervical vertebra or C6 is relatively smaller in size (compared to remainder of cervical vertebrae), and wider from side to side. Its posterior (back) and anterior (front) surfaces are flat and equally deep. The posterior surface is placed on a higher level than the anterior. Its lower boundary is sloped downward in such a way that it overlaps the front and upper parts of the C7 below. The spinous process, or bony projection at the back of each vertebra, is bifurcated, or notched, into two parts of unequal size. Its inferior and superior articular processes are fused on two sides to form articular columns. Articular processes are bony projections that fit into adjacent vertebra to make the back more stable. The articular facets – the region where articular processes join – of the C6 vertebra are oval-shaped and flattened. Its transverse processes (areas of bone that stick out of the sides of the vertebrae) include a posterior and anterior portion, and are intersected by the transverse foramen, an opening in the vertebra that allows for the passage of veins, arteries, and nerves.

Written and medically reviewed by the Healthline Editorial Team
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In Depth: C6

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