The importance of the upper cervical region

The upper cevical region is extremely important for the proper function of the human body, it is the link between the brain and the rest of your body. It contains the brain stem, a part of the brain controlling vital functions, such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, …

The brain stem also controls all postural muscles.

The upper cervical region is also VERY FRAGILE. It is very important to take good care of it. Here is why this region is fragile.

It should be noted that the occiput is one of the skull’s bones and the skull is larger than the occiput only.

Side view of the upper cervical spine


1. Joints between occiput, C1 and C2 (upper cervical) have a nearly horizontal angulation (slightly curved), which makes them vulnerable to injuries and shocks. The other cervical vertebrae’s joints are tilted, which gives them a higher stability. The vertebrae of the rest of the back rest and joints that are tilted too.
Front view of the upper cervical spine


2. The function of intervertebral discs is to absorb shocks and stabilize the structure of the spine. It is quite clear that the upper cervical region (occ, C1, C2) does not have ANY INTERVERTEBRAL DISC, which lowers the stability of this region. Lower down the neck, the discs are present and become thicker and thicker as we move down the column.
tete-vs-atlastete-vs-atlas2 3. Here is another reason why this region is unstable. The mobility of the head is in large part due to upper cervical movement. It is therefore important that the region is in perfect alignment to keep the weight of the head (7000 grams) and gravity (1 ton of atmospheric pressure) in alignment to the Atlas (50 grams). The Atlas misaligns easily, thus the center of gravity of the head is shifted and that creates enormous stress on the nervous system…
rotation 4. A person can usually turn their head from left to right by about 80 degrees on each side (almost parallel to the shoulder). 40-50 degrees of that rotation is between the Atlas and the Axis, which would be about 50%.
flex-ext 5. About lowering the chin to the chest (flexion) and lift the chin in the air (extension), the total movement between these two positions is about 110 degrees, 45 degrees between the occiput and the atlas or about 40%.

If we summarize, therefore, the upper cervical spine is:

    • Vulnerable, to impacts and trauma
    • Unstable, given the lack of intervertebral disc
    • Crucial, because the heavy weight of the head over this region
    • Highly mobile, to allow movement of the head


Moreover, the nervous system in the upper cervical region houses most of the reticular formation, which is the part of the nervous system that controls the conciousness level of a person (arousal, sleep), their attention span or the acuity of their senses.

Here are other reasons why the upper cervical region is important:

  • It has much more proprioceptive fibers (perception of body in space) than any other region
  • More ligaments support this region, but they are also weaker
  • The muscles that move the region are more precise and smaller
  • The nerve fibers that give orders to muscles moving C1 (Atlas) are the nerve fibers of C1. So if the Atlas is out of alignment, the muscles that hold the Atlas can not keep it in position, because the nerve supply is impaired. The muscles that hold the rest of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine (the rest of the back and neck) are fed by multiple nerves, which prevents this situation from happening.