The cervical spine consists of 7 small bones called “vertebrae” stacked on top of each other, each of which is connected through a series of joints. These joints allow the neck to turn and bend, which is important for all of our everyday movements. By themselves the joints of the cervical spine are not very stable, so to protect the region, a complex system of muscles surrounds the spinal column to control movement and protect the area from injury. These muscles are arranged in several layers. The deepest layers consist of very small muscles that attach into each individual vertebrae and control and protect each individual joint. The middle layers span across several joints, and the outer layer consists of the larger, more powerful muscles that run the entire length of the neck, all the way from head to the shoulders.
Not only do these muscles need to move and protect the cervical spine, but they also must control the weight of the head. Think about this, the head and neck have a unique anatomical relationship in that the larger, heavier head – which weighs about 10 pounds – sits atop the thinner neck. This essentially represents an inverted pendulum where the natural tendency is for the heavier head, which represents the top of the inverted pendulum, to topple over. This places a high demand on the neck muscles to both support and control the weight of the head, while at the same time ensuring adequate movement and stability of the joints of the cervical spine. This complex process requires each muscle to be adequately strong, flexible, and coordinated, and as long as this is the case the neck remains protected and healthy.