Spinal Anatomy

The spinal anatomy is engaged in almost every movement made by the human body. Our arms, legs, chest and head all are attached to the spine – and the spine’s complex arrangement of bone, cartilage, ligaments, nerves, muscles, blood vessels and other tissue is strong enough to support the body, yet flexible enough to allow for a wide range of motion. All in all, our spinal anatomy is the foundation for all physical function, including exercise, sitting, walking and resting.

The term spinal anatomy is often used interchangeably with the word “backbone,” and not without reason: there are 33 bones in the spine, known as vertebrae, which are stacked from top to bottom. These vertebrae are categorized into five areas. The categories are:

  • Cervical spine (C1 to C7) – commonly referred to as the neck, the cervical spine is made up of the seven vertebrae at the top of the spine, which help support the head
  • Thoracic spine (T1 to T12) – the 12 vertebrae in the central section, to which the ribs are attached
  • Lumbar spine (L1 to L5) – the five vertebrae toward the lower back, which support much of the body’s weight
  • Sacrum (S1 to S5) – the five fused vertebrae located between the pelvic bones
  • Coccyx (tailbone) – the four fused vertebrae at the base of the spine

In addition to structural support, the vertebral column provides protection for the spinal cord, the most crucial spinal anatomy element. The spinal cord runs from the brain, along the spine through the spinal canal, and ends between the L1 and L2 vertebrae. The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system and is the primary pathway for messages from the brain to the rest of the body. Nerve roots branch off the spinal cord and exit the spinal column through openings in the vertebrae called foramina.

Structural abnormalities within the spinal anatomy can lead to neck or back pain caused by compressed or irritated nerve roots. Contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that can help you find meaningful relief from neck and back pain.