What Is a Cervical Ligament?

Erik J.J. Goserud

The cervical vertebrae of the human body are located between the neck and base of the head, serving to aid in a broad range of motion and protect important neural structures. These vertebrae, like most bones, are held together by strong cartilaginous structures known as ligaments. A cervical ligament is simply one such ligament located in the cervical region and attached to an associated vertebrae.

If a cervical ligament is worn away or damaged, it could cause a significant amount of neck pain.
If a cervical ligament is worn away or damaged, it could cause a significant amount of neck pain.

The movement of the human head is important for sensing its surrounding environment. Additionally, the spinal cord connects to the brain in this region, without which there would be a disconnect between the brain and the rest of the body. This is why a neck break is so detrimental to central and peripheral nervous system function. The cervical vertebrae help to make all of these things possible, and their function as a cohesive unit is made possible through the utilization of cervical ligaments.

To understand each cervical ligament, it is helpful to examine them individually. The entire spine is lined with like ligaments that all function similarly throughout the spinal regions. There are seven primary ligaments associated with the spine: the ligamentum flavum, the intertransverse ligament, the posterior longitudinal ligament, and the interspinous ligament. The supraspinous ligament, the anterior longitudinal ligament, and the facet capsulary ligament round off this list.

Each of these ligaments performs a different function by connecting specific areas of the vertebrae. A cervical ligament may be worn away over time, potentially causing a significant amount of neck pain or even functional disorders. This degradation could be brought about by poor diet, extreme physical stress, genetically compromised structures, or disease.

A cervical ligament is not to be confused with a tendon, a common misconception among those unfamiliar with anatomy. Tendons are similar structures; however, they attach muscle to bone, whereas ligaments attach bone to bone. Tendons are also necessary but for different purposes; they are more involved in the movement of the body, whereas ligaments act as the glue that holds bones together. To learn more about anatomy or the cervical ligament, there are a variety of resources including online education or courses that may describe anatomy in greater detail. These courses likely highlight the importance of each individual ligament in greater detail; however, a broad understanding that cervical ligaments hold the neck vertebrae together is a basic tenant on which to build.

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