Cervical Spine Curve and Injuries

The cervical spine is the area of the vertebral column commonly referred to as the neck. It is made up of seven vertebrae, each referred to by 'C,' appended with an identifying number. The number indicates the level of the cervical spine in which the particular vertebra is located. The cervical spine is often called the C-spine for short. An example of the cervical vertebra naming conventions is the seventh cervical vertebra. It is called C7, or C-7.

MRI Cervical spine
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Cervical Spine Curve

Every area of the spine has a curve that is formed by the positioning of the vertebral bones. 

  • The cervical spine normally has lordosis. This means that from a side view, the curve is directed towards the front of the body. 
  • The thoracic spine normally has a kyphotic curve. Kyphosis is a curve that is directed towards the back of the body when you view the body from the side.
  • The lumbar spine has a normal lordosis.
  • The sacrum has a normal kyphoses. 


Cervical spine injuries run the gamut from mild to life-altering or even lethal, and have a number of potential causes.

Some common cervical spine injuries include herniated discs, strains, sprains, stingers, and burners (an athletic injury that is typically temporary). Additionally, the cervical spine can develop degenerative changes that may lead to arthritis and stenosis. These changes are usually, but not always, related to advancing age.

Often, a problem or an injury to your neck will involve several structures. For example, when you injure a spinal structure, the soft tissue in the area will likely be affected as well. If you have a herniated disc in your cervical spine, you may experience neck and shoulder muscle spasms, and a whiplash injury may result in sprained spinal ligaments.

Soft Tissue Injuries

From neck cricks to muscle strain and ligament sprain, most cervical spine injuries affect only the soft tissue. Many soft tissue injuries heal faster, with an easier recovery than fractures or other bony injuries, however, some can be more serious or may take longer to heal from than bone injuries.

A course of physical therapy may help you move past a soft tissue injury. But if, after 6 weeks of physical therapy, your symptoms persist, your healthcare provider may suggest more interventional treatment approaches.​

Serious Injuries

Certain types of cervical spine injuries can be very serious. These include fractures, dislocations, and spinal cord injury. Treatment of ligament injuries is based on spinal stability.

Researchers from the United Kingdom prospectively examined a large number of records of patients (over 250,000) who experienced major trauma to find out how many of them sustained cervical spine injuries. Males under the age of 35 who experience high energy trauma with concomitant facial fractures are most at risk for a significant cervical spine injury.

9 Sources
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  3. Mirbagheri SS, Rahmani-Rasa A, Farmani F, Amini P, Nikoo MR. Evaluating Kyphosis and Lordosis in Students by Using a Flexible Ruler and Their Relationship with Severity and Frequency of Thoracic and Lumbar PainAsian Spine J. 2015;9(3):416–422. doi:10.4184/asj.2015.9.3.416

  4. Torlincasi AM, Waseem M. Cervical Injury. [Updated 2019 Mar 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448146/

  5. Steilen D, Hauser R, Woldin B, Sawyer S. Chronic neck pain: making the connection between capsular ligament laxity and cervical instabilityOpen Orthop J. 2014;8:326–345. Published 2014 Oct 1. doi:10.2174/1874325001408010326

  6. Maeda T, Ueta T, Mori E, et al. Soft-tissue damage and segmental instability in adult patients with cervical spinal cord injury without major bone injury. Spine; 37(25):E1560-6.

  7. Clark R, Doyle M, Sybrowsky C, Rosenquist R. Epidural steroid injections for the treatment of cervical radiculopathy in elite wrestlers: case series and literature reviewIowa Orthop J. 2;32:207–214.

  8. Torretti JA, Sengupta DK. Cervical spine traumaIndian J Orthop. 2007;41(4):255–267. doi:10.4103/0019-5413.36985

  9. Hasler RM, Exadaktylos AK, Bouamra O, et al. Epidemiology and predictors of cervical spine injury in adult major trauma patients: a multicenter cohort study. J Trauma Acute Care Surg; 72(4):975-81.

Additional Reading
  • Hasler R., Exadaktylos A., Bouamra O., Benneker L., Clancy M., Sieber R., Zimmermann H., Lecky F. Epidemiology and predictors of cervical spine injury in adult major trauma patients: a multicenter cohort study. J Trauma Acute Care Surg.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22491614

  • Sources:

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.