Atlas and Axis Anatomy Lesson

We’ll discuss the importance of cervical spine anatomy and the Atlas and Axis—two unique and important bones in the body that help you rotate your head.

The cervical spine consists of a total of seven vertebrae with two specialized points known as C1 and C2, or Atlas and Axis. According to Medscape, C1 and C2 are responsible for providing mobility for the skull.

Also, if you are constantly arching or looking down at your phone, you might suffer from headaches, back, neck, and shoulder pain that travels to your Atlas and Axis. This can cause stress and tension in the body, especially when you don’t stretch for extended periods of time.

Fortunately, a chiropractor can help provide adjustment and help address chronic neck and shoulder problems.  As chiropractors, we see a lot of common injuries or traumatic impact to the Atlas and Axis cervical vertebrae bones. We’ll go over the main functions of C1 and C2 below and why it’s important to see a chiropractor.

C1 Atlas 

The C1 vertebrae, or Atlas, has an anterior arch and an anterior tubercle, which appears to be similar to a little bump. The Atlas is located at the top of the neck and the skull. It is responsible for supporting your head, according to this article. The Atlas has vertebral foramina where the spinal cord runs through it.  It also has a prominent ring-like structure with two lateral masses. As the first cervical vertebrae, Atlas or C1, articulates with C2, the second vertebrae.

Typically, if C1 is misaligned or sustains a traumatic injury and an Atlas Subluxation, the vertebrae can cause stress on your body, particularly the spinal cord and brainstem. As a result, individuals with C1 Atlas problems can suffer from headaches, anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, and other health problems. The C1 Atlas consists of a few main parts: the lateral mass, superior articular facet, and inferior articular facet which articulates with the superior articular facet.

Other unique features:

  • Not body or spinous process. Alternatively, it has lateral masses that are connected via anterior and posterior arch, according to this article.
  • First of 7 cervical vertebrae
  • Supports weight of the skull

C2 Axis 

Generally, the Axis is the second of seven cervical vertebrae of the spine, also known as C2. It plays a unique function by rotating movements of the head along with the dens at the atlanto-axial joint, according to this article. Additionally, C2 Axis allows C1 or the Atlas to successfully rotate and provide a pivoting movement that lets your head move freely, according to Heathline. Injuries to the C2 Axis can range from traumatic falls to motor-related accidents.

The anterior parts of the Axis include the dens, lateral mass, transverse process, superior articular facets, and interior articular facets. Posterior parts include lamina, pedicle, and a spinous process, according to this article.

Other unique features:

  • Can be identified through its dens or the odontoid process
  • Includes superior articular facets which articulate and form two lateral atlanto-axial joints
  • posterior to the Atlas (below)
  • Contains Odontoid Process
  • Helps C1 rotate

According to this article, there are two important joints in relation to the cervical spine:

  • The atlanto-axial
  • Antlanto-occipital joints

Together, these joints form via the articulation between both the Atlas (C1) and Axis (C2).

Stretches to Practice for C1 and C2 

There are several stretches you can do to reduce tension and stress on the body in C1-C5. The first step is to ensure that you have good posture and that you are not causing strain on the Atlas and Axis or any other parts of your body. When possible, take periodic breaks when staring at the computer screen or checking your phone. Plus, there are plenty of great apps to check and keep you aware of your posture and lumbar spine. You can also try laying down on your back and removing the strain from your neck for a few minutes. Additionally, it’s important to do gentle neck exercises from side to side and up and down to alleviate pressure and also keep the movement going. Also, sit straight in a chair and do gentle head lifts several times a day.

All in all, there are many ways to strengthen and support Atlas and Axis and check in on posture to alleviate chronic pain. As always, we recommend coming in for a consultation at Flintridge Family Chiropractic to help you get aligned and receive the support you need.