The joints of the cervical spine can be divided into two groups – those that are present throughout the vertebral column, and those unique to the cervical spine.
Present throughout Vertebral Column
There are two different joints present throughout the vertebral column:
- Between vertebral bodies – adjacent vertebral bodies are joined by intervertebral discs, made of fibrocartilage. This is a type of cartilaginous joint, known as a symphysis.
- Between vertebral arches – formed by the articulation of superior and inferior articular processes from adjacent vertebrae. It is a synovial type joint.
Unique to Cervical Spine
The atlanto-axial and atlanto-occipital joints are unique to the cervical spine. The atlanto-axial joints are formed by the articulation between the atlas and the axis:
- There are two lateral atlanto-axial joints which are formed by the articulation between the inferior facets of the lateral masses of C1 and the superior facets of C2. These are plane type synovial joints.
- The medial atlanto-axial joint is formed by the articulation of the dens of C2 with the articular facet of C1. This is a pivot type synovial joint.
The atlanto-occipital joints consist of an articulation between the spine and the cranium. They occur between then superior facets of the lateral masses of the atlas and the occipital condyles at the base of the cranium. These are condyloid type synovial joints, and permit flexion at the head i.e. nodding.
Common conditions of cervical joints include cervical osteoarthritis or cervical spondylosis,degenerative joint disease of the neck and cervical facet disease.
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