A vertebra is an individual bone within the vertebral column. There are 33 vertebrae in the column. These 33 vertebrae are divided into five regions –cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and the coccyx – and vertebrae in each region vary in size and shape.
A cervical vertebra (located in the neck area) is relatively small and helps support the head. Thoracic vertebrae (in the middle back) are intermediate in size, and they provide an attachment point for the rib cage and overall body support. The lumbar vertebrae are the largest and must endure the weight of the entire torso. The sacrum (or sacral region) and coccyx consist of vertebrae that are fused together, and these vertebrae look significantly different from the others in the spinal column. Though each vertebra has a slightly different function, the collective purpose of the vertebral column is to protect the spinal cord, as well as provide a mechanism of support and movement for the entire body.
Each vertebra contains an oval-shaped vertebral body, which serves as a base for intervertebral discs – the cartilaginous cushions that provide shock absorption between adjacent vertebrae. In the center of the vertebra is the foramen, which is the space through which the spinal cord passes. Vertebrae also contain other structural components that enable mobility and aid in protection of the spinal cord and nerves, such as pedicles, laminae, and a spinous process.
A vertebra is subject to a number of disorders and injuries, such as compression fractures, osteoarthritis, spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, and scoliosis – many of which are present at birth or occur as a result of aging and years of wear and tear to the spine. However, there are certainly ways to prevent vertebral damage and minimize your chances of developing chronic back or neck pain. Using good body mechanics while participating in activities such as lifting, exercising, and standing can reduce the amount of stress placed on the spine. Practicing correct posture, maintaining a healthy body weight, and refraining from smoking are a few other measures you can take to keep your spine healthy.
If you’re experiencing neck or back pain, there’s a chance you have an injury on or near a vertebra. If so, a minimally invasive, endoscopic procedure from Laser Spine Institute (LSI) may be able to treat some of your symptoms. To learn more about our services or for a free MRI or CT scan, contact us today.