The neck area of the spine is also known as the cervical spine. It is made up of the seven cervical vertebrae, which are designated as C1 through C7, starting at the base of the skull and moving down the spine. The functions of the cervical spine are to support the head, protect the spinal cord, including the brain stem, and allow the head to move in a wide variety of ways. In fact, the cervical spine is the most mobile portion of the spine.
The first two cervical spine vertebrae have been assigned special names, the atlas and the axis. The atlas is the first cervical vertebra (C1). It is shaped like a ring and does not have a body. This allows more room for the widest portion of the spinal cord to pass through. C2, the axis, is the second vertebra in the cervical spine. It has a short peg-like projection that allows these first two vertebrae to pivot together and allow the head to nod. Special joints between the atlas and the axis allow for side to side movement, and the cervical spine's structure also allows us to rotate our head.
Vertebrae in the cervical spine are different from other vertebrae because they contain holes called transverse foramina. Arteries which supply parts of the brain with blood come from the neck, up through these holes from the neck.
The upper portion of the cervical spine is curved forward, helping to absorb some of the shock and vibrations that occur with movement. The curve of the cervical spine also help to balance and hold the body in proper alignment. The curve in the cervical spine starts at the second vertebra and ends in the center of the second vertebra of the thoracic section of the spine.