The neck, what bones and cartilage make it up?

The neck is the part of the body that makes the transition between the trunk and the head. It is a structure of vital importance, through which blood vessels and nerves necessary for our survival pass.

It is a thin and flexible area that allows head mobility. However, it is also a vulnerable area, since any lesion in it can damage the blood flow of the brain or its nerve transmissions.

The neck is a more complex structure than it seems at first glance. It is formed by a series of bones, cartilage that articulate them, muscles, vessels and nerves. In this article we will focus on the bones and cartilage that compose it.

How do we define the neck?

To facilitate the study of the neck, a series of superficial limits have been established that define it. The neck begins at the lower edge of the jaw and the occipital bone, which is the base of the skull. From there, it extends to the clavicles and the sternum ahead. In the back, the neck reaches the vertebra C7.

The human neck is one of the most complex structures of mammals because It contains many important elements that converge in a very small space. These structures include, among others:

  • The carotid arteries.
  • The pharynx
  • Larynx
  • Trachea.
  • Numerous nerves

We will explain what is the framework that protects all these parts.

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What are the bones of the neck?

The skeleton of the neck is composed of cervical vertebrae, hyoid bone, clavicles and sternum. The cervical part of the spine, that is, the neck, is made up of seven vertebrae.

In addition, there are also intervertebral joints, which give them flexibility and movement. In fact, it is also a structure that is sensitive to shock and usually suffers pain.

Cervical vertebrae

The vertebrae are not all equal to each other. As we mentioned, the neck is made up of seven vertebrae. From the third to the sixth they are all the same:

  • They have a vertebral body and spinous process, which is the back of the vertebra.
  • They have a concave upper face and a convex lower face.
  • In addition, they are small in relation to the rest and a bit flattened.

The first vertebra is called atlas. It is a bone shaped like a cornered ring, without a body or apophysis. It is formed by two lateral masses that are connected by arches, hence its ring shape. It is the vertebra that contacts the occipital bone.

The second vertebra or C2 is called axis. What differentiates it from the rest of the cervical vertebrae is their apophysis. It is the so-called odontoid process, which is a projection of its pin-shaped body.

By last, the C7 vertebra differs from the rest also in its apophysis. It is a spinous process, like those of vertebrae C3 to C6, but it is not bifida. This spinous process is longer than the other cervical ones and, for that distinctive range, it is also called ‘prominent’.

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Hyoid bone

It is a mobile bone that is located in the anterior part of the neck. It is at the level of the third vertebra, between the jaw and the thyroid cartilage. Interestingly, it does not articulate with any other bone. It is supported by a series of ligaments that go to the temporal bones of the skull, called hydadeo-style ligaments. In addition, it is anchored to the thyroid cartilage.

Cartilage and ligaments of the neck

First, we must mention the thyroid cartilage, the cricoids and the epiglottis. They form the front part of the neck, being part of the larynx and allowing breathing.

On the other hand, the cervical joints are formed by the discs that stand between the vertebrae and for a series of ligaments. The intervertebral discs have a central part called the nucleus pulposus and an external part called the fibrous ring.

The anterior longitudinal ligament joins the vertebrae at its front. Similarly, there is a posterior longitudinal ligament. The yellow ligament connects the joints of two vertebrae followed by their back.

Intertransverse and interspinous ligaments connect the vertebrae between their processes. Finally, we also find the supraspinatus ligament, which in its highest part forms the nuchal ligament.

In conclusion

The neck is a very complex part that, to be understood, must be studied in depth. Its seven vertebrae, with their corresponding ligaments and intervertebral discs, are what allow it to be a flexible structure.