Anatomy of the Spine
Spinal anatomy is a remarkable combination of bones, ligaments, tendons, large muscles, and highly sensitive nerves. The spine is strong, yet flexible for bending and twisting. For anyone with a spine condition, studying spinal anatomy helps to understand diagnostic and treatment options. Small bones, vertebrae, are stacked on top of one another and create the natural curves of the back and the central canal that protects the spinal cord. The spinal cord extends from the skull to the lower back. Nerves branch out from the spinal cord through openings in the vertebrae and carry messages between the brain and muscles.
Intervertebral discs sit in between the vertebrae. They are flat and round, about one-half inch thick and made up of two components.
- Nucleus pulposus: the jelly-like center of the disc
- Annulus fibrosus: the flexible outer ring of the disc
The spine has three natural curves:
- The c-shaped curve of the neck, cervical spine
The neck supports the weight of the head and protects the nerves that run from the brain to the rest of the body. This section of the spine has seven vertebrae that get smaller as they get closer to the base of the skull.
- The reverse c-shaped curve of the chest, thoracic spine
Twelve vertebrae make up the thoracic spine. The rib cage provides stability and structural support to the upper back and protects the vital organs of the heart and lungs. Since the upper back is not mobile, there is little chance for injury or wear and tear degeneration in the thoracic spine.
- The c-shaped lower back, lumbar spine
The lumbar spine consists of five moveable vertebrae. It is strong, but highly flexible, providing mobility, including flexion, extension, side bending, and rotation. The lower back carries the weight of the torso, which makes it more prone to injury, such as a disc herniation characterized by leg pain.
For more information, go to Spine and Neck Herniated Discs and Back Pain Relief. If suffering from back pain, consult with DOC’s orthopedic spine surgeon for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
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