Updated: Jun 3
Behold the spinal column: commonly known as the backbone and more specifically as the vertebral column, it is responsible for the heavy task of providing support for the entire body. Learning more about your spinal anatomy can provide you with a good foundation for back and bone health, as well as inform your decisions to see a doctor for any issues arising as such.
On Spinal Anatomy: An Overview Of Your Spine
Essentially, the spinal column comprises 33 bones - or vertebrae - stacked atop one another, which are then divided into five different sections: the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine sections, followed by the sacrum and coccyx bones - also known as the tailbone.
As the central support structure of your body, the spine connects various different parts of your musculoskeletal system.
An axis of movement for the top half of your body, your spine provides support for both mobility and movement, permitting us to sit, stand, walk, run, twist, and bend among other things. The spine likewise provides a conduit for major nerves that run from the brain to everywhere else, while also stoutly protecting the spinal cord from injury.
A Deeper Look Into Spinal Anatomy: What Constitutes The Spine?
Numerous parts come together to make up the body of the spine. They are as follows:
The basis of spinal anatomy: The vertebrae. The spine houses 33 stacked vertebrae that make up the spinal canal, a narrow space that houses the spinal cord and nerves to keep them safe and protected from harm. The range of motion in the vertebrae allow for us to move our upper bodies, while the lowermost vertebrae, the sacrum and coccyx, are fixed in their positions.
Between the vertebrae are facet joints, which are cartilage that allows for the vertebrae to slide against each other as they move. These facet joints facilitate twisting and turning, providing flexibility and stability both.
Intervertebral discs between the vertebrae provide cushioning and absorb shocks when movement rattles through the spine; they are filled with a soft gel-like centre. Disc herniation occurs when these discs tear, allowing the gel to seep out and compress the spinal nerves, causing pain.
Housed within the spinal canal is the spinal cord and nerves; it stretches from the skull to the lower back, and is responsible for carrying messages between the brain and your muscles. Your spinal cord and nerves are responsible for your bodily movements, all the way down to your little toe.
Other soft tissues like ligaments, muscles, and tendons connect the vertebrae, support the back, and connect muscle to bone, all to aid in movement.
The five sections of the vertebrae are as follows:
The cervical section covers the top of the spine from the neck downwards, and comprises seven (7) vertebrae - C1 to C7. These allow for the turning, tilting, and nodding of the head.
The thoracic section covers the middle back, and consists of twelve (12) vertebrae - T1 to T12. The ribs are attached to the thoracic spine, which bends slightly to form the slight C-shape of the kyphotic curve.
The lumbar section is connected to the pelvis, and covers the lower back; it is made up of five (5) vertebrae - L1 to L5. This is the section that bears most of the weight of your upper body, and takes the stresses of lifting and carrying heavy burdens. It bends inwards to form the C-shape of the lordotic curve.
The sacrum is a triangle-shaped bone that connects to the hips, and is composed of five (5) sacral vertebrae that fuse together in the womb.
The coccyx, or tailbone, is made up of four fused vertebrae that form the base of the spine. This is where the pelvic floor muscles attach.
Common Symptoms of Spinal Injury
There are a number of conditions that relate to spinal health. Some of these conditions are caused by stress, tension, or physical activity, and others through hereditary means or other disorders. It could be worth looking into your spinal anatomy if you experience any of the following symptoms:
Back or neck pain; pain can present as sharp and stabbing, dull and aching, or burning.
Radiating pain in the arms and/or in the legs.
Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the muscle, arms and/or legs.
Stiffness in the back and/or neck.
Abnormally rounded shoulders or back.
Uneven limbs, with one hip or shoulder higher or lower than the other.
Uneven body weight distribution, with the head or body leaning one way or the other.
Loss of sensation.
Changes in reflexes.
Weakened or loss of urinary or bowel control.
Uncontrollable or repeated muscle spasms.
Common Spinal Conditions
Because it is frequently activated and used in daily movement, there are many ways for the spine to be injured. The most common reasons include:
Arthritic conditions from ageing or natural degeneration.
Back pain and sprains from being jarred - either as a result of sudden unyielding movement or accidental jerking.
Unnatural curving of the spine from scoliosis or kyphosis.
Spinal fractures and herniated discs.
Spinal tumours and cancer.
How Can I Protect My Spine?
While our bones and joints naturally degenerate with age, there are still numerous ways to protect from spinal injury. Cultivate good habits as part of your life like eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, incorporating consistent exercise and activity, and cutting out or reducing harmful substances like alcohol and tobacco.
Common risk factors for spinal injury include:
Being overweight or obese; excess weight adds extra strain to your bones and joints.
Undernourishment and a lack of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for bone health like Vitamin D and calcium.
Repeated use of your limbs or repeated movement - frequently caused by the nature of one’s career.
Bad posture, whether standing, sitting, or sleeping.
Improper lifting techniques, especially when relating to heavy objects that are situation on the floor.
It can help to take a look at these risk factors, and reduce or eliminate them where necessary.