This review constitutes the first of four reviews that systematically address contemporary knowledge about the mechanical behavior of the cervical vertebrae and the soft-tissues of the cervical spine, under normal conditions and under conditions that result in minor or major injuries. This first review considers the normal kinematics of the cervical spine, which predicates the appreciation of the biomechanics of cervical spine injury. It summarizes the cardinal anatomical features of the cervical spine that determine how the cervical vertebrae and their joints behave. The results are collated of multiple studies that have measured the range of motion of individual joints of the cervical spine. However, modern studies are highlighted that reveal that, even under normal conditions, range of motion is not consistent either in time or according to the direction of motion. As well, detailed studies are summarized that reveal the order of movement of individual vertebrae as the cervical spine flexes or extends. The review concludes with an account of the location of instantaneous centres of rotation and their biological basis.
Relevance: The facts and precepts covered in this review underlie many observations that are critical to comprehending how the cervical spine behaves under adverse conditions, and how it might be injured. Forthcoming reviews draw on this information to explain how injuries might occur in situations where hitherto it was believed that no injury was possible, or that no evidence of injury could be detected.