Written and medically reviewed by the Healthline Editorial Team
In Depth:Bones & Vessels
As the spinal column descends from the base of the skull, it
forms the bony structure of the neck, the part of the body between the skull
and the shoulder.
The spinal column
is about two dozen interconnected, oddly shaped bony segments called vertebrae.
It extends from the base of the skull to the pelvis and gives human beings the
ability to stand upright. The spinal column also connects to the ribs, 12 pairs
of curved bones that protect vital organs such as the lungs and heart. The neck
contains the cervical vertebrae, the seven smallest.
The spinal column protects and houses the spinal cord, the long bundle of nervous
tissue that transmits neural signals to the brain and rest of body. It connects
to the brain and travels down to the small of the back. Its branches cover
nearly every surface of the body.
The neck is also a passageway for the blood supply in the
head. The external and internal carotid
arteries travel on both sides of the neck. The internal and external
jugular veins, the main thoroughfares for blood returning to the heart, run
along the sides of the neck as well. The carotid arteries are used to check the
pulse in the neck.
The internal carotid
artery travels up from the aortic arch just outside the heart. It travels
into the head to provide oxygenated blood to the eyes, the front of the brain,
and portions of the scalp.
The external carotid
artery helps supply part of the brain, and it also gives blood to the
thyroid gland in the front of the neck.
Because the neck’s only protection comes from the vertebral
column, it is prone to injury during high-impact accidents, including car
accidents, falls from heights, or head-on impacts. Whiplash is a common injury during
these types of accidents, when the head suddenly jerks away from the body.
Damage to the carotid arteries or jugular veins poses
severe, immediate health risks due to blood loss and can be fatal without
immediate medical treatment.