Cervical Nerves

In addition to the seven cervical vertebrae, cervical anatomy features eight cervical nerves (C1-C8) that branch off of the spinal cord and control different types of bodily and sensory activities.

Each cervical nerve is named based on the lower cervical vertebra that it runs between. As an example, the nerve root that runs between the second cervical vertebra and the third cervical vertebra in the neck is described as the C3 nerve.

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Cervical Nerve Functions

Branching off from the nerves in the spinal cord, the cervical nerves are responsible for relaying messages and ensuring functioning to different body parts.

More specifically:

  • C1 and C2 (the first two cervical nerves) control the head.
  • C3 and C4 help control the diaphragm (the sheet of muscle that stretches to the bottom of the rib cage and plays an important role in breathing and respiration).
  • C5 controls upper body muscles like the Deltoids (which form the rounded contours of the shoulders) and the Biceps (which allow flexion of the elbow and rotation of the forearm).
  • C6 controls the wrist extensors (muscles like the extensor carpi radialis longus, extensor carpi radialis brevis, and extensor carpi ulnaris that control wrist extension and hyperextension) and also provides some innervation to the biceps.
  • C7 controls the Triceps (the large muscle on the back of the arm that allows for straightening of the elbow).
  • C8 controls the hands.

When any of the highly sensitive cervical nerves are irritated (possibly from a herniated cervical disc or cervical stenosis), neck pain and other symptoms may ensue, with functioning possibly affected in different ways.