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SECTION TWO Applied Clinical Sciences

Structure and Function

of the Cervical Region

The cervical spine supports and orients the head in space
relative to the thorax to serve the sensory systems. As such,
sophisticated mobility and stability are demanded of the
cervical musculoskeletal system. The mechanisms by which
this is achieved and the consequences of impairment are of
interest to those treating cervical disorders. This chapter
reviews pertinent and applied clinical anatomy of the cervical

Structure and function

of the cervical spine
Within the cervical spine there is an anatomical and functional
division between the craniocervical and typical cervical
regions with the transition occurring at the C2–3 motion
segment. These regions have distinct differences in motion
segment and muscular anatomy and have some autonomy of
function. Cervical spine function is also intimately related to
the workings of the thorax, shoulder girdles, and the
temporomandibular region.

Craniocervical region
The craniocervical region comprises the atlanto-occipital and
atlantoaxial articulations. The configuration of the atlanto-
occipital (C0–1) articulations permits generous motion in the
sagittal plane, but lends itself to minimal motion in the frontal
and transverse planes due to the steepness of the lateral walls
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of the atlas sockets and the tension of the joint of uncovertebral joints and a transverse
capsules.1 The structure of the atlantoaxial fissure that divides the posterior aspect
(C1–2) articulations combined with its relati- of the intervertebral disk.7–9 Fissuring of
vely lax capsular ligaments permits a large excur- the intervertebral disk appears to be a
sion of motion, particularly in the transverse normal response to the formation of the
plane. Overall the craniocervical region uncinate processes and the repeated
accounts for approximately one-third of the translational and torsional strain imposed
sagittal plane motion and one-half of transverse by daily movement of these motion
plane motion of the cervical spine. This segments. The annulus of the adult
potential for motion is crucial for the sensory intervertebral disk is crescent-shaped
functions of the head. As such these motion and relatively absent posteriorly (replaced
segments have specific muscles dedicated to by a fibrocartilage structure) except for
providing orientation2, 3 and specific craniover- a thin vertically oriented layer.8 Anteriorly
tebral ligaments that enhance their stability.1, 4 the annulus is horizontally oriented
The C2–3 motion segment provides the and interwoven and contains high
junction between the craniocervical and concentrations of collagen consistent with
typical cervical regions. The configuration torsional demands. 8, 10, 11
of this motion segment is somewhat unique Typical cervical spine zygapophyseal
and provides what Bogduk and Mercer1 joints are oriented in the vicinity of 40° to
describe as an anchor for the apparatus the vertical, with the exception of the facets
that holds and moves the head on the at C3 and C7 that have a steeper orientation.12
typical cervical spine. The superior elements When viewed in the plane of the cervical
of the C3 vertebra possess large uncinate facet joints, the structure of the fissured
processes5 and superior articular processes intervertebral disk and uncovertebral joints
that not only face backwards and upwards, provide the typical cervical motion
but also are medially inclined.6 Thus, the segments with the structure of an ellipsoid
bony configuration of the superior aspect of joint.1, 5, 13 This joint structure permits flexion–
C3 forms a deep socket for its articulation extension and strongly coupled ipsilateral
with C2.1 Such an enhancement of bony axial rotation and lateral flexion motions,
stability appears appropriate considering with the exception of the C2–3 motion
the abundance of converging muscles that segment, where both ipsilateral and
attach particularly to the posterior elements contralateral coupled motion has been
of the axis. The axis forms a junction for observed.1, 5, 14
the superior and inferior attachments of
the deep posterior muscles of the typical Muscles of the cervical
cervical and craniocervical regions, spine
respectively (Figure 3.1). In this manner the
deep muscles of the typical cervical region Within the cervical muscle system there is a
may further anchor the atlas, providing a division between the muscles that primarily
stable base for craniocervical muscle function. span the craniocervical region, those that
span the typical cervical region, and those
that span both regions. The differentiation
Typical cervical region of these craniocervical and typical cervical
Typical cervical motion segments have muscles is most obvious in the deeper
characteristics unique to other spinal muscle layers (Figures 3.1 and 3.2). The
regions. The adult typical cervical motion trapezius and levator scapulae muscles
segment is characterized by the presence also have attachments to the cranium and
Structure and Function of the Cervical Region 23






Figure 3.1 Superficial (A) and deep (B) posterior muscles of the cervical spine. The superficial posterior neck muscles, the splenius
capitis and cervicis (SP) and the semispinalis capitis (SSCap) muscles, span both craniocervical and typical cervical motion
segments. In contrast the deeper muscles tend to be more discrete to either the craniocervical (suboccipital (SO)) or typical
cervical (semispinalis cervicis (SSCer), cervical multifidus) regions.







Figure 3.2 Superficial (A) and deep (B) anterolateral muscles of the cervical spine. The superficial anterior neck muscles such as the
sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and the infrahyoid (IHD) muscle group span both craniocervical and typical cervical motion segments. In
contrast the deeper muscles tend to be more discrete to either the craniocervical (longus capitis (LCa), rectus capitis anterior (RCA)) or
typical cervical regions (longus colli (LCol), scalene (SC)) muscles.
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cervical spine, but are primarily considered Control of cervical spine

muscles of the shoulder girdle. posture and motion
Muscles of the craniocervical The role of individual cervical muscles in
control of cervical spine posture and motion
region will be discussed according to the region
Posteriorly, the craniocervical muscles consist of the spine about which they act
of the deep suboccipital group, including the (craniocervical/typical cervical regions)
rectus capitis posterior major and minor, and their relative depth in relation to the
obliquus capitis inferior and superior muscles. vertebral column. There is a focus in
These muscles are important proprioceptive discussion towards the interaction of the
monitors with connections to the vestibular deep and superficial muscle groups. In
and visual systems (Chapter 5).15, 16 The longus general the superficial muscles have a
capitis, rectus capitis anterior, and rectus greater capacity to exert torque than their
capitis lateralis form the anterolateral deeper counterparts due to their larger
craniocervical group. The longus capitis has lever arms and cross-sectional areas.2, 18, 19
attachments as far caudad as C6; however its In contrast, the deeper muscles are more
fibers span the craniocervical spine.17 localized to either the craniocervical or
typical cervical regions. They have
segmental attachments, larger spindle
Muscles of the typical
densities, and muscle fiber compositions
cervical region that enable them to guide and support
Posteriorly the cervical muscles consist of vertebral motion segments.20–22
the semispinalis cervicis and the cervical The following review is a guide only,
multifidus muscles. Their attachments to based largely on gross anatomical
the axis represent the junction of the typical observations, some of which are still poorly
cervical and craniocervical deep posterior defined within the anatomical literature.
neck muscles. Anteriorly the longus colli Additionally, the redundancy of the cervical
muscle has extensive attachments along muscle system is well documented. It has
the entire length of the typical cervical been observed that mid-range head
region and attaches as far cephalad as C1. orientations common in daily function can
Laterally the typical cervical region is be achieved with multiple combinations
covered by the three portions of the scalene of movement strategies23, 24 with motion
muscles. characteristics of some cervical joints differing
substantially depending on starting position
Muscles spanning both and movement pattern.13, 23, 24
craniocervical and typical
cervical regions Upright sustained postural tasks
Superficial cervical muscles such as the An objective of rehabilitation is often to
splenius capitis and cervicis, semispinalis teach patients to achieve an upright “neutral”
capitis, and the longissimus capitis span cervical spine posture, although the position
both the craniocervical and typical cervical of “neutral” is as yet undefined. The position
regions posteriorly. Anterolaterally the of a patient’s head relative to the thorax and
suprahyoid and infrahyoid muscle groups the angulations of cervical lordosis at any
and the sternocleidomastoid muscles span moment in time are largely dependent on
both cervical regions. the orientation of the cervicothoracic
Structure and Function of the Cervical Region 25

junction and the orientation of the head as loss of the cervical lordosis in patients
dictated by the requirements of vision. The postsurgery.29–31 The distal attachments of
integrity of the upright cervical spine is the semispinalis cervicis to the thorax may
also dependent on the muscle system. It is also permit it a role in the maintenance
estimated that, when devoid of muscles, the of an upright orientation of the typical
mobile cervical spine may buckle under a cervical spine over the thorax. In this manner
mass of less than one-fifth of the mass of the these extensor muscles may function as
head.25 A deep sleeve of muscles envelops postural synergists with the craniocervical
both the craniocervical and typical cervical flexor muscles in the prevention of forward
regions (Figure 3.3). These muscles have head postures. The underlying cervical
appropriate morphology and composition multifidus muscles have limited torque
for segmental motion control.21, 22, 26 capacity; however, their attachments and
Posteriorly, the deep cervical extensor proximity to the cervical motion segments
muscles of the typical cervical region and zygapophyseal joint capsules are
(semispinalis cervicis and multifidus) have appropriate for a segmental stability role.32
an anatomical arrangement well suited for From a gross anatomical perspective it
support of the lordosis.27, 28 The semispinalis appears that the deep extensor muscles
cervicis forms a strong attachment to the of the typical cervical region provide a
spinous process of the axis with longitudinal stable anchor for suboccipital muscle
bands forming extensor moments to function (Figure 3.3). These suboccipital
the cervical spine. Its detachment during muscles are appropriately positioned to
surgical procedures from the spinous support and control the lordosis of the
process of C2 has been implicated in the craniocervical region and perform the
small head-on-neck movements required
for daily function.
Anteriorly the cervical lordosis is
supported by the deep cervical flexor
muscles (longus capitis, longus colli, rectus
capitis anterior). These muscles counter the
accentuation of the lordotic angle induced
by the extensor muscles and other external
forces.33, 34 The three divisions of the longus
colli muscle intersect in the vicinity of the
apex of the lordosis, and as such, a negative
correlation has been found between the
acuteness of the cervical lordosis and
the cross-sectional area of the longus colli
muscle.26 The longus capitis muscle overlaps
the superior portion of longus colli and
extends on to the cranium. An increase in
electromyographic (EMG) activity is
evident in these deep cervical flexor muscles
either when load is applied to the top of the
head, that would tend to accentuate the
Figure 3.3 The mass of the head and the integrity of the cervical lordosis, or when the lordosis is actively
lordosis are supported by the deep sleeve of cervical muscles
(gray arrows) and torque produced on the head by the large
straightened during postural realignment
superficial muscles (black arrows). tasks.35, 36
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Neck pain is often associated with of radiological studies investigating any

specific postures which are thought to association between the angle of lordosis
expose the cervical spine to excessive and neck pain.49–52
mechanical load. Loading of cervical It is possible that external measurements
structures has been investigated with of posture or the radiological measure of
particular regard to the orientation and lordosis in the static upright posture
acuteness of the cervical lordosis.37 Weight might not be the critical point. Persons
is borne anteriorly by the vertebral bodies with neck pain have been shown to drift
and intervertebral disks and posteriorly into a more forward head posture during
by the articular processes and facets.38–40 computer work.53, 54 Changes in cervical
The shape of the ideal lordosis permits flexor and extensor muscle activity have
optimal sharing of loads between the been measured during such tasks in neck
anterior and posterior vertebral elements. pain patients.55–57 The posture adopted by
A flattening of the cervical lordosis the patient in function and the strategy by
increases compressive forces on anterior which it is maintained by the cervical
vertebral elements and increases tensile muscles may be of greater importance.
forces at posterior vertebral elements.
The reverse occurs in postures with
an accentuated cervical lordosis.41 Motion in the sagittal plane
Theoretically, an altered load distribution
may irritate pain-sensitive structures. Motion segment kinematics
Certain sitting postures have been shown Attempts have been made to analyze the
to position motion segments at the limit of dynamics (movement amplitude and
their orientation with the potential for timing) of individual cervical motion
adverse load.42 segments during active movements in the
There has been a long-standing interest anatomical planes using radiographic
in the relationship between the static techniques.1, 58 Flexion and extension of the
cervical posture in the upright position head and neck en masse have demonstrated
and neck pain. A more forward posture of some consistency of movement. During
the cervical spine has been related to a flexion, movement is initiated and
reduced cervical lordosis.43 Some clinical terminated predominantly in the lower
studies of external measurement of upright cervical spine (C4–7). The craniocervical
posture have drawn associations between (C0–2) and middle cervical (C2–4) regions
changes in static postural angles and neck contribute mostly during the middle phase
pain, while other have not.44–46 Despite of motion, but during the final phase, C0–2
much clinical anecdotal evidence, direct motion segments usually move towards
scientific evidence linking static postural extension. A similar pattern of motion is
angles to painful cervical disorders observed during cervical extension, with
remains inconclusive. Little association the exception that C0–2 reaches its
has been found between radiological maximum extension during the final phase
measures of anatomical alignment and of the extension movement.1, 58 The timing
surface measurements of the head and sequence of sagittal plane motion may be
neck posture.47, 48 There are large expected to change if the individual is
interindividual variations in the angle of asked to perform a different movement
the lordotic curvature, which challenge task such as a nodding action of the head.
interpretation of its clinical significance.26 One may expect earlier motion of
Furthermore there is disparity in results craniocervical motion segments following
Structure and Function of the Cervical Region 27

these commands, as opposed to sagittal (Figure 3.4). Gravitational torque imposed

plane motion of the head and neck en on the craniocervical motion segments by
masse. Findings of nonuniform motion of the mass of the head is restrained by the
the craniocervical and typical cervical longus capitis and rectus capitis anterior
regions when the cervical spine is moved muscles with assistance from the hyoid
en masse in the sagittal plane have muscles. The sternocleidomastoid muscle
underpinned the clinical practice of does not contribute to flexor moments
examining motion of the typical and at the craniocervical region despite its
craniocervical regions separately. large flexor moments at the typical cervical
The sagittal movements of head region.2 The cleido-occipital portion of
protraction/retraction result in opposing sternocleidomastoid has an extension
motion at opposite ends of the cervical moment arm at the craniocervical region
spine. Protraction places the lower motion that increases in extended postures and
segments near their end-range of flexion and the portions that attach to the mastoid
the upper levels in progressively greater process have moment arms close to nil.2
extension, with end-range extension The role of the hyoid muscles in the
achieved at C0–1 and C1–2. In contrast, production of cervical flexor torque is
cervical retraction positions the lower unknown. The suprahyoid muscles
motion segments towards a mid-extension connect the mandible to the hyoid bone
range with each superior level which in turn is connected to the thorax
demonstrating more flexion, with C0–1 and via the infrahyoid muscles. Their
C1–2 achieving full end-range of flexion.59 collective action when the mouth is closed
will pull the mandible towards the
Muscle function sternum, inducing flexor moments to both
Extension of the cervical spine to and from the craniocervical and typical cervical
an upright position requires eccentric regions. EMG activity of these muscles has
followed by concentric control of the been shown during both craniocervical
cervical flexor muscles. Initially there is a and cervical flexion tasks.60, 61 The
slight burst of extensor muscle activity to infrahyoid muscles have large moment
initiate the motion. This is followed by arms for neck flexion2 but their total
extensor silence as the center of gravity of contribution to cervical flexion is
the head/neck moves posterior to the axis unknown.
of motion to reach the end of available Flexion of the cervical spine and a return
motion. The extensor muscles are then to an upright position require eccentric
active in an effort to reach extreme followed by concentric control of the
cervical extension.33 Eccentric control of cervical extensor muscles. The semispinalis
the typical cervical spine upon the thorax capitis, splenius capitis, and the
is via the longus colli, sternocleidomastoid, semispinalis cervicis and multifidus
anterior scalene, and hyoid muscles. It is muscles have all been shown to be active
estimated that as extension progresses, the through the eccentric and concentric
flexor moment arms of sternocleidomastoid stages of motion.33 Only at the extreme of
and the anterior scalene muscles reduce the cervical flexion range is there a
and in extreme extension are less than cessation of EMG activity from the cervical
25% of their value in neutral upright.2 extensor muscles,33, 62 suggesting that load
Consequently, as extension progresses, moments in this position are balanced by
the deeper muscles play a larger role in passive restraints, including the nuchal
the control of gravitational torque ligament.42, 63
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Extension angle

DCF EMG 0.3 mV

(L) SCM EMG 0.4 mV


Figure 3.4 Extension angle (au, arbitrary units) and electromyographic (EMG) data from the deep cervical flexors (DCF: longus colli,
longus capitis) and left (L) sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles during cervical extension performed in standing. The EMG traces
depict continuous activation of the DCF muscles during the eccentric phase of the motion compared to the more phasic activity of the
SCM predominantly at the commencement of extension and at return from extension (Falla, O’Leary, Jull, unpublished data).

Motion in the transverse

effect of the coupled lateral flexion of the
and frontal planes typical cervical region.65

Motion segment kinematics Muscle function

Cervical motions in the horizontal and The oblique orientation of most cervical spine
frontal planes are coupled. Axial rotation muscles permits their contribution to axial
and lateral flexion of the typical cervical rotation and lateral flexion motion. Studies
motion segments exhibit strong ipsilateral investigating these movements have shown
coupling, with the exception of the C2–3 complex muscle patterns with many muscles
motion segment that varies in coupling contributing depending on the intensity of
direction. This is in contrast to the the contraction.18, 24, 33 The sternocleidomastoid
craniocervical region that exhibits and splenius capitis muscles are strongly
contralateral coupling.1, 14 Therefore during active during contralateral and ipsilateral
cervical axial rotation the typical cervical axial rotation, respectively.66, 67 Deeper
spine flexes laterally to the side of rotation cervical muscles (multifidus, the suboccipital
while the upper vertebrae tilt in the opposite muscles, and longus capitis and colli) have
direction.14, 64 This mechanism permits the oblique orientations suited to contribute to
C1–2 complex and head to maintain motion in the transverse and frontal planes
vertical alignment during axial rotation, but, due to small moment arms, they have
counterbalancing the lateral translation modest torque-producing capacity. These
Structure and Function of the Cervical Region 29

muscles may be more suited for segmental multisegmental muscles during motion in
rotary stability rather than prime mover other anatomical planes.23 This may explain
roles.32 EMG activity recorded from the the observations of bilateral EMG activity
longus capitis and longus colli (superior of the obliquus capitis inferior muscles
portion) muscles during both ipsilateral and recorded during unilateral axial rotation
contralateral isometric cervical rotation and tasks.69 Additionally, as the head is axially
lateral flexion supports suggestions that rotated to one side, activity of the contralateral
these deeper muscles have a segmental cervical muscles would be expected to
stability role during these motions rather facilitate the contralateral side bending
than a prime mover role (Figure 3.5).36, 68 response of the craniocervical region observed
Biomechanical models suggest that tight in kinematic studies. In this manner
rotary control of the deep craniocervical sternocleidomastoid is ideally suited for its
muscles is necessary to control unwanted role in axial rotation as it produces both
rotary moments at C1–2 imposed by contralateral axial rotation and unilateral
asymmetric contraction of larger lateral flexion moments to the head.


DCF EMG 0.5 mV

(L) AS EMG 0.3 mV

(L) SCM EMG 0.3 mV

Figure 3.5 Activation of the deep cervical flexors (DCF: longus capitis, longus colli), left (L) anterior scalene (AS), and
sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles during typical cervical flexion (CF), craniocervical flexion only (CCF) and both ipsilateral and
contralateral axial rotation (ROT). The DCF muscles are active during flexion of both regions of the neck and during both contralateral
and ipsilateral rotation. In contrast SCM and AS are predominantly active during typical cervical flexion and contralateral axial rotation.
EMG, electromyogram. (Adapted from Falla et al.68 with permission.)
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Degenerative changes are commonly

Motion and neck pain noted in the lower cervical motion segments
Alterations in movement accompany which also appear to be a common site of
cervical disorders at the regional and disk disorders,82–85 but caution should be
segmental levels in the craniocervical and taken in assuming an association between
typical cervical spines. Reductions in degenerative changes and pain.
regional motion have been shown to Degenerative changes in the cervical spine
distinguish between healthy subjects and are commonly found in asymptomatic
those with cervical disorders.70, 71 In tandem individuals,86 and the presence or severity
with regional movement, motion at of pain may not be related to the presence
the segmental level may be reduced.72 or degree of structural change.87
Conversely it may be excessive in either
or both physiological and intervertebral Neurovascular structures
translation and “neutral zone” motions.72–74 of the cervical spine
Both the craniocervical and typical cervical
regions have osteoligamentous structural A complex system of neurovascular
characteristics that lend themselves to structures is present in the neck. A basic
stability issues. description of the neurovascular structures
With injury to the craniocervical spine, is presented here but more detailed
a loss of integrity of the alar ligaments descriptions of these extensive systems are
influences stability of both the C0–1 and available in the literature.3, 88–90
C1–2 motion segments in multiple motion The spinal cord in the cervical region is
planes, but especially rotary stability.75, 76 the thickest portion of the spinal cord and in
Transverse ligament injury permits accordance the cervical spinal canal is large.
anterior migration of the atlas from the The canal is widest superiorly and narrows
dens during motion in the sagittal plane.77 inferiorly. All cervical spinal nerves exit
In the typical cervical region, fissuring of from the spinal canal through the
the intervertebral disk permits greater intervertebral foramen except for the
intervertebral translation during uppermost two cervical spinal nerves.
physiological motion that may place Instead, the C1 spinal nerve exits the spinal
greater demands on other passive and canal through the posterior atlanto-occipital
active cervical restraints for stability. membrane, and the C2 spinal nerve through
Degenerative change may also further the foramen formed by the arch of the
perpetuate excessive intervertebral atlas and the lamina of the axis. Cervical
translation and “neutral zone” motion.73 intervertebral foramen are bordered
An anterolisthesis or retrolisthesis may superiorly and inferiorly by pedicles,
develop with a loss of disk height and dorsally by the facet joint and capsule,
degenerative change.78 There are difficulties and ventrally by the posterolateral disk,
in diagnosing motion segmental instability. uncovertebral joint, and vertebral artery.
Radiographic measurements may be used The foramina are largest at the C2–3 level,
to detect excessive motion segment progressively reducing in size to the C6–7
mobility72, 75 but there is poor correlation level. In contrast, the cross-sectional area of
between the magnitude of hypermobility/ the cervical spinal nerves increases in size
subluxation and presenting clinical signs towards the lower cervical levels, reducing
and symptoms.79 There are also challenges available space through which the nerve
in detecting minor instabilities in the travels. Cervical nerve roots are vulnerable
clinical setting (Chapter 12).80, 81 to encroachment at their exit from the
Structure and Function of the Cervical Region 31

intervertebral foramen due to processes lordosis and the capacity to achieve full
such as spondylosis, degenerative excursion of neck motion. The sagittal
zygapophyseal or uncovertebral joints, orientation of the cervicothoracic junction
herniated disks, or nerve root sleeve fibrosis, will largely dictate the resulting angle of the
potentially causing radicular symptoms.83, 91 cervical lordosis.96, 97 There is some evidence
It would appear the lower cervical nerve to suggest that as the angle of the thoracic
roots (C6, C7) are the most vulnerable due kyphosis changes with age, there is an
to the prevalent degenerative changes at associated superior migration of the inflection
the C5–6 and C6–7 motion segments, point of the cervical lordosis.98 Consequently
respectively.82–84 the thoracic spine potentially dictates the
The brachial plexus is intimately related loading mechanisms of the cervical spine.
to the scalene muscles. The anterior and Full excursion of cervical spine and
middle scalene muscles together with the shoulder girdle motion requires thoracic
first rib comprise the scalene triangle through mobility, particularly at the cervicothoracic
which the brachial plexus and subclavian junction and upper thoracic motion
artery pass. Commonly the C5 and/or C6 segments.99, 100 The transition of the mobile
ventral rami may penetrate the anterior cervical spine to the more rigid thoracic spine
scalene muscle92 but mostly they penetrate occurs at the cervicothoracic junction. Mobility
the middle scalene along with the dorsal is required at both the upper thoracic motion
scapular nerve.93 It is thought that atrophy, segments and their corresponding articulations
spasm, or the common presence of the with the ribs.101 Abnormal limitation in
additional scalenus minimus may mobility of the upper thorax has consequently
compromise travel of neurovascular been implicated in conditions of abnormal
structures through the scalene triangle.92, 94, 95 loading and restricted motion of the cervical
The vertebral artery is the major source of spine.100
blood supply to musculoskeletal structures
of the cervical spine and the cervical spinal
cord.3 The bilateral vertebral arteries rise Relationship between
from the subclavian arteries before they enter the cervical spine
and run through the foramen transversarium and shoulder girdle
of C6 to C1. The vertebral arteries then wind
posteriorly around the lateral masses of the The shoulder girdle has muscular
atlas, pass over the posterior arch of C1 just attachments to the cervical spine in the
behind its lateral mass, and join together form of the axioscapular muscles and carries
after passing through the foramen magnum. the trunks of the brachial plexus to the upper
The vertebral arteries are vulnerable to limb after their exit from the intervertebral
mechanical load due to their torturous course foramen. Thus the dynamics of the shoulder
through the cervical spine and are therefore girdle, and in particular the scapula, is of
an important consideration during manual interest as it relates to the length–tension
therapy techniques.90 relationship of axioscapular muscles, their
subsequent mechanical forces on the cervical
Relationship between spine, as well as their capacity to protect
the cervical spine and thorax neurovascular structures. A comprehensive
analysis of the shoulder girdle also includes
The cervical spine has a strong biomechanical the axiohumeral and scapulohumeral
relationship to the thorax, particularly with muscles; however, their inclusion is beyond
respect to the angulations of the cervical the scope of this text.
32 Whiplash, Headache, and Neck Pain

on scapular kinematics during the initial

Kinematics of the scapula phase of arm elevation. Scapular stability
There is consistency of “normal” scapular is the primary task of the axioscapular
motion patterns recorded using electro- muscles.
magnetic devices during functional tasks
of the upper limb, but variability in the
amplitude of these movements between
Role of the axioscapular muscles
individuals is common. As the upper limb is Interpreting the function of the individual
elevated from its resting position there is axioscapular muscles in control of the
initially minimal scapular motion (first scapula at rest and during elevation is
30–40° of upper-limb elevation), followed challenging. Moments exerted to the scapula
by progressive upward rotation, posterior from the various muscles alter as the axis of
tilt, and external rotation of the scapula scapular rotation migrates through range.
on the thorax (Figure 3.6).102–104 Posterior The level of shoulder girdle muscle activity
scapular tilt and rotation increase also appears to be dependent on factors such
significantly once the upper limb is past 90° as the precision of the upper-limb task.107
elevation.103 These scapular rotations are The contribution of the trapezius muscle to
associated with scapular elevation and scapular orientation at rest is evident in the
retraction as well as elevation, posterior presence of trapezius paralysis (post accessory
rotation, and retraction of the clavicle.103, 105 nerve injury) that results in a downwardly
Of interest is the small change in scapular rotated, protracted, and laterally displaced
orientation in the initial phases of upper- scapula at rest.108–110 The patient is often unable
limb elevation which would replicate to shrug and elevation motion is limited. EMG
scapular function demanded by many daily activity of all three portions of the trapezius
tasks of the upper limb in the neck pain has been demonstrated during elevation of the
patient, some of which would be prolonged upper limb111–114 with the three portions acting
and potentially fatiguing, for example as a unit during arm elevation tasks.115, 116
during computer use. Interestingly, Tsai et Timing of the three portions may differ
al.106 found that fatigue of shoulder girdle depending on the task.117 The upper trapezius
muscles had the most profound influence elevates and retracts the outer end of the




Figure 3.6 During elevation of the upper limb the scapula rotates upwardly, tilts posteriorly, and externally rotates. These actions are
controlled by the axioscapular muscles. (Adapted from Tsai et al.106 with permission.)
Structure and Function of the Cervical Region 33

clavicle about a pivot at the sternoclavicular Intramuscular fine-wire EMG techniques

joint,118 thereby assisting in upward rotation have been used to investigate the function
of the scapula by elevating the acromion of the levator scapulae muscle. Levator
through the acromioclavicular joint. The scapulae has been shown to be strongly active
orientation of the nuchal fibers, the middle in upper-limb elevation,33, 111, 124, 125 particularly
fibers, and the lower fibers of trapezius in abduction. It contracts concentrically
dictates that they assist in drawing the clavicle during the first half of abduction assisting
and scapula backwards and medially.118 This scapular elevation, and eccentrically during
would assist in retraction and external rotation the second half of abduction, allowing the
of the scapula. Lower trapezius may also scapular to rotate upwardly.124
contribute to posterior tipping and external There has been speculation as to the
rotation of the scapula.111 The thoracic fibers mechanical impact that the axioscapular
of trapezius counteract lateral displacement muscles have on the cervical spine. The
of serratus anterior and upward motion of upper trapezius and levator scapulae
levator scapulae muscle, maintaining muscles may have direct compressive effects
horizontal and vertical equilibrium rather on cervical motion segments due to their
than generating net torque.118 superior attachments. The mechanical effects
The role of the serratus anterior muscle of upper trapezius may be negligible due
during arm elevation is evident following to its lack of cross-sectional area and its
its paralysis due to long thoracic nerve palsy. attachments primarily to the ligamentum
During elevation (especially flexion) there is nuchae.24, 33, 114, 118 However, the vertical
inadequate fixation of the scapula against orientation of the levator scapulae fibers and
the ribcage (particularly the inferior angle of its attachment to the upper four cervical
the scapula during flexion due to the strong vertebrae (Figure 3.7) may impose
anterior scapular tilt torque imposed by the compressive forces to the cervical spine.124
weight of the upper limb) and a substantial These vertical forces occur posterior to the
loss of elevation range.93, 119 These deformities axis of sagittal cervical spine motion,
reflect the major contribution of the serratus producing cervical spine extension when
anterior muscle to upward rotation and contracting bilaterally,18 and assisting in
posterior tilt of the scapula due to its high ipsilateral cervical rotation when contracting
concentration of fibers on to the inferior unilaterally.124
scapular angle.120, 121 The medial border also In states of impaired shoulder girdle
becomes prominent93 due to inefficient function or muscle fatigue, forces imposed
external rotation of the scapula and there to the cervical spine from the axioscapular
is a loss of scapular protraction during muscle attachments may be potentially
shoulder elevation.122 Serratus anterior injurious124 and contribute to the development
muscle activity gradually increases through of neck and shoulder pain during static work
elevation range of the upper limb.113 Its postures and repetitive arm movements.126, 127
fibers, particularly the lower ones, are Additionally, shoulder girdle impairment
oriented to exert moments about both the may place detrimental loads on cervical
spine of the scapula and the acromio- neurovascular structures. Altered muscular
clavicular joint during both the initial and control of the scapula resulting in positions of
later phases of elevation.123 The clavicle scapular depression and downward rotation
offers a point of support for serratus anterior is thought to contribute to adverse mechanical
which can use the scapula as a lever to exert load to both nerve and vascular structures,
moments around the sternoclavicular and potentially contributing to conditions such as
acromioclavicular joints. thoracic outlet syndrome.108, 109
34 Whiplash, Headache, and Neck Pain


Figure 3.7 The vertical orientation of the levator scapulae muscles (A) and their proximal attachments to the upper four cervical
vertebrae (B) permits this muscle to exert vertical compressive forces to the cervical spine.

Relationship between be disrupted by neck pain or injury, as has

the cervical spine and been demonstrated in cases of whiplash-
temporomandibular region associated disorders.136, 137 Thus alterations
may occur in the coordinated action of the
There is a relationship between posture and muscles controlling the mandible and the
motion of the cervical and temporomandibular head in disorders potentially involving either
regions. The orientation of the mandible is the cervical spine or temporomandibular
influenced by the posture adopted at the regions. This may be one explanation for
craniocervical region.128–131 The mandible why disorders of the cervical spine and
has been shown to pursue a more posterior temporomandibular regions commonly
path of opening when the head is positioned coexist.138–141
forward of its resting upright posture
such that the craniocervical region is in Conclusion
extension.130 This is most probably due to the
change in resting length of the hyoid muscles. The structure of the cervical spine affords it
In reverse, alterations have been shown in sophisticated mobility and function. The
craniovertebral angle following alterations in cervical muscle system comprises numerous
interocclusal relationships.132 The head and muscles, all with multiple functions and a
the mandible also exhibit concomitant and high redundancy that makes description of
well-coordinated movement when opening their function difficult. Some simplification
and closing the mouth, such that jaw opening can be made by dividing the function of the
and closing coincided with craniocervical muscles into deep and superficial muscle
extension and flexion respectively.131, 133–135 groups, and by describing the action of
These coordinated movement patterns may muscles into their action about the
Structure and Function of the Cervical Region 35

craniocervical and typical cervical regions. craniomandibular and scapulothoracic

This chapter used these gross anatomical regions. The juxtaposition of these regions to
observations together with evidence from the cervical spine and their obvious mech-
EMG studies to infer the function of the anical and neurophysiological relationship
cervical muscle system. The description of to the cervical region indicates the necessity to
the function of these muscles is made more assess their function within the scope of the
complex by the integrated function of the cervical spine examination.

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