Your spinal column is a strong, flexible, bony structure that protects the spinal cord and nerves, supports the body's weight, and permits upright posture.
It is composed of 33 bones called vertebrae. There are 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral, and 4 coccygeal vertebrae. These are superimposed one on top of the other to form a strong, flexible support. The cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae are separate and can move individually.
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The 5 sacral vertebrae are fused together to form the sacrum, and the 4 coccygeal vertebrae are fused to form the coccyx, or tailbone. The sacrum and the coccyx are not capable of individual movement.
The spine forms a slight "S" shape when viewed from the side. These curves are like springs and help distribute mechanical stress as the body moves.
The vertebrae are numbered from the top of the spinal column to the bottom. When a doctor discusses a specific vertebra, its location is abbreviated. For example, L-5 is the fifth lumbar vertebra.
Between almost all vertebrae are cushion-like discs, also called intervertebral discs. These discs cushion the vertebrae and act as shock absorbers.
The intervertebral discs are largest and thickest in the lumbar region, because these vertebrae carry the bulk of the body's weight. The discs are thinnest in the upper thoracic region.
Intervertebral discs are made up of 2 parts. The annulus is a tough, fibrous outer wall that encases a soft gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus.
Your spinal cord runs down through the middle of the spinal column, where it is safely protected. It begins at the base of the skull and usually ends between the first and second lumbar vertebrae.
On the left and right sides between each vertebrae, a window is formed called a neuroforamen. The nerve root slips through these openings and continues to the organs, muscles, and limbs throughout the body.
Spinal Ligaments and Tendons
Spinal ligaments are strong, fibrous tissues that connect bone, cartilage, and other structures to support the spinal system. Ligaments attach to the vertebral bodies to prevent the spine from bending to far in either direction.
Tendons are sturdy bands of tissue that attach muscles to bone.
The muscles, along with the supporting system of ligaments, control the spine's ability to maintain balance and stability when your body is standing or moving.
Spinal instability occurs when the ligaments, muscles, and discs are unable to maintain inter-segmental control in reaction to physiological loads or stresses.
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