The term, ‘atlas’ derives from Greek mythology. Atlas supported the heavens, similar to how the atlas bone supports the center of our being, the head and the brain.
The atlas is a unique vertebra. None of the other vertebra look exactly like it. On the top surface, a pair of facets articulate with round condyles just below the occipital skull bone. This specific structure allows you to nod your head. Along with the axis bone below it, the atlas further helps move the head from side-to-side.
The atlas begins to develop within the 7th week of the life of a fetus. It becomes fully formed by ages 3 or 4.
Injury to the atlas may occur from whiplash, such as during sports or a motor vehicle accident. As per any part of the spine, the atlas may further become worn down and face degeneration. However, this is more common in the lower back.
The atlas further forms the first vertebra of the cervical spine. The cervical spine makes up the neck and is composed of 7 vertebrae. It also holds the spinal cord, which travels down through the spine, and impacts every movement we make. The spinal cord begins passage through the spine at C1. It goes through the large and central foramen at C1 from the brainstem. In this way, C1 and the rest of the vertebrae protect the spinal cord.
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