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The Ligamentum Nuchae is Crucial for Humans

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the ligamentum nuchae, so here’s a definition from Merriam-Webster to get the ball rolling:

A medium ligament of the back of the neck that is rudimentary in humans but highly developed and composed of yellow elastic tissue in many quadrupeds where it assists in supporting the head.

I must admit, this is the first time I’ve read Webster’s definition of the ligamentum nuchae and there are two items that jump off the page.

The first is a likely oversight considering the proper term would be ‘median’ (midline), not ‘medium’, ligament.

Second and unfortunately, Webster gives us the distinct impression that there is nothing special about the human ligamentum nuchae, referring to it as “rudimentary”.

The Webster’s definition needs help, although they do get credit for pointing out how the ligamentum nuchae is highly developed and key to support quadruped heads.

Keep in mind, we humans invest much of our early lives on our hands and knees, plus we have a head, therefore it is shortsighted to think our ligamentum nuchae is any less critical than that of a horse or dog after we begin to walk upright.

Let’s try Clinical Anatomy Associates and see if we can find something more specific:

The [ligamentum nuchae] is the Latin term to describe the nuchal ligament. It arises from the word [nucha] meaning the “back” or “nape” of the neck.

The ligamentum nuchae is a midline or median structure found in the posterior aspect of the neck. It is a fibroelastic tendon-like bilaminar structure with a triangular shape. Because of its location the ligamentum nuchae forms a septum that divides the posterior aspect of the neck in the midline providing an attachment for several muscles. These muscles are the trapezius, splenius capitis, rhomboid minor and serratus posterior superior.

The ligamentum nuchae attaches superiorly to the inion (external occipital protuberance) and the midline of the occipital bone. Inferiorly it attaches to the spinous process of C7 (vertebra prominens). Anteriorly it attaches to the posterior tubercle of C1 and all the cervical vertebrae in the midline. Interestingly, anatomical studies have shown the ligamentum nuchae to have small attachments to the spinal dural (thecal) sac superior and inferior to C1.

There is a discussion as to the relationship of the ligamentum nuchae and the supraspinous and interspinous ligaments. Some say that the ligamentum nuchae is a discrete structure distinct from the supraspinous and interspinous ligaments, while others contest that the ligamentum nuchae is a continuation of the supraspinous and interspinous ligaments.

That’s more like it, an excellent explanation of where the ligamentum nuchae is located and what other structures are within immediate proximity.

The ligamentum nuchae is an attachment point for several muscles

In more simplistic terms from my perspective, the ligamentum nuchae is like the sail of a sailboat, tremendously vital to the spine and quintessential for navigation control.

The ligamentum nuchae:

  • Stabilizes the skull, particularly during movement patterns

  • Attaches to every cervical vertebra, providing essential support of the neck

  • Anchors numerous muscles, integrating the skull with the torso

  • Creates space for nerve pathways, impacting signally capacity throughout entire body

This is where I beg the rhetorical question…

Why is the ligamentum nuchae widely ignored across every modality we could discuss?

I will not speculate on an answer, yet will add I am thrilled to have serendipitously discovered how to wake up my ligamentum nuchae three years ago while attempting to overcome aggressive neuropathy down my right arm along with mild numbness and tingling throughout the other three appendages.

I am happy to report not only did the neuropathy come under my control the very first day, I no longer have a jaw that locks when fully opened.

Over the course of time, I observed that my previously injured shoulder shifted from 85% to 99% and my chronically inhibited glutes have been activated and eager to work.

In general, my cervical spine has never been more confidently mobile.

Above all, however, the most obvious and glaring reaction I experienced the first day my ligamentum nuchae began to function properly was clarity of the mind.

A brain fog lifted that I didn't even know was there and my emotional state was blissful...euphoric, even.