The human spine contains approximately 33 vertebrae, which are individual bones stacked on top of one another to make up the vertebral column.
The purposes of the vertebral column are to protect the spinal cord, support the head and chest, and serve as a base of attachment for spinal muscles, tendons, and spinal ligaments.
Beginning at the base of the skull and continuing down to the pelvic area, the vertebral column is divided into five regions:
- Cervical – 7 bones in the neck area
- Thoracic – 12 bones in the chest
- Lumbar – 5-6 bones in the lower back
- Sacrum – 5 fused bones in the pelvis
- Coccyx – 3-5 fused bones at the base of the spine
The vertebrae in each region differ in size and shape, depending on their function and location in the spinal column. For example, the cervical vertebrae (in the neck area) are relatively small and flexible. These vertebrae support the head and allow a large range of neck movement. On the other hand, the lumbar vertebrae in the lower back are quite large, because they have to bear the weight of the entire torso. Thoracic vertebrae are located in the middle of the vertebral column and increase in size as they progress down toward the lumbar (lower back) region.
Each vertebra consists of the vertebral body, transverse processes, pedicles, articular processes, laminae, and the spinous process. The oval-shaped vertebral body is the main part of the vertebra, and it provides an attachment point for intervertebral disc material. The pedicles are two bridges of bone that join the front and back portions of the vertebra. Laminae are two protective shields of bone that serve as a “roof” to cover the spinal cord, and the vertebral foramina combine to form the spinal canal. Nerve roots branch off the spinal cord and extend through the spaces between the vertebrae, known as the intervertebral foramina.
Vertebrae and their surrounding tissue are subject to a number of conditions that can cause symptoms like pain and stiffness and the neck and back as well as numbness and tingling in the extremities, among other symptoms. If you’re experiencing back or neck pain, contact Laser Spine Institute (LSI) today for a free MRI or CT scan analysis.