The human neck is a perfect blend of form and function. It has several specific tasks (eg making it possible to turn our heads so we can see), while serving as a conduit for many other vital activities (eg connecting the mouth to the lungs).
The anatomical design of the neck would impress modern engineers. The flexibility of the cervical spine allows your head to rotate, flex and tilt many thousands of times a day.
The muscles and bones provide the strength and flexibility required, however the really impressive design comes with the trachea, oesophagus, spinal cord, myriad nerves and the vital blood vessels. These structures must all find space and function perfectly at the same time. They must also be able to maintain their shape while the neck moves.
These structures are all highly adapted to achieve their aims. The trachea is protected by a ring of strong cartilage so it doesn’t collapse, while allowing enough flexibility to move when stretched. Above this, the larynx lets air move over the vocal cords so we can speak. Farther back, the oesophagus is a muscular tube which food and drink pass through en route to the stomach. Within the supporting bones of the neck sits the spinal cord, which transmits the vital nerves allowing us to move and feel. The carotid arteries and jugular veins, meanwhile, constantly carry blood to and from the brain.
They are connected at the bottom of the skull and at the top of the spinal column. The first vertebra is called the atlas and the second is called the axis. Together these form a special pivot joint that grants far more movement than other vertebrae.
The axis contains a bony projection upwards, upon which the atlas rotates, allowing the head to turn. The skull sits on top of slightly flattened areas of the atlas, providing a safe platform for it to stabilise on, and allowing for nodding motions. These bony connections are reinforced with strong muscles, adding further stability.
Don’t forget that this amazing anatomical design still allows the vital spinal cord to pass out of the brain. The cord sits in the middle of the bony vertebrae, where it is protected from bumps and knocks. It sends out nerves at every level (starting right from the top) granting control over most of the body.