Overview of the spine

The spine plays a role in every movement made by the human body. In addition to supporting the upper body it also protects the spinal cord, which sends sensory and motor information between the brain and the rest of the body. Because it is such a delicate collection of tissue — including bone, cartilage, collagen and ligaments — that bears so much weight, the spine is prone to deterioration. This can result in conditions that interfere with the tightly packed nerves running through the spinal column, leading to pain and limited mobility.

If your life is being affected by symptoms of a spine condition that is causing nerve compression, learning about the spine can help you understand the cause of your pain. This knowledge can help you work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan with the best chance of getting you back to the people and activities you may have been missing.

Basic spinal anatomy

There are 33 stacked bones, or vertebrae, from the top of the spine to the bottom. These bones are grouped into five segments, or regions, and are referred to by abbreviations based on their location:

  • Cervical spine (C1-C7) — The upper spine, running from the base of the skull to the top of the rib cage.
  • Thoracic spine (T1-T12) — The middle spine is attached to the ribcage and is less prone to deterioration because it undergoes less movement.
  • Lumbar spine (L1-L5) — The lower spine runs from the bottom of the ribcage to the sacrum.
  • Sacrum (S1-S5) — These vertebrae are fused together and form the base of the spine which attaches to the pelvis.
  • Coccyx (tailbone) — Final segment of the vertebral column, serving as an attachment point for muscles, tendons and ligaments.

In addition to the vertebrae, the spine is made of many other parts that work together to protect the spinal cord and allow for basic torso and head movements. These include:

  • Spinal discs
  • Spinal ligaments
  • Blood vessels
  • Spinal fluid
  • Protective membranes and other tissue

There are 31 pairs of nerve roots that branch off the spinal cord, sending sensory and motor signals to other parts of the body. Many cases of neck and back pain come from compression of these nerve roots caused by narrowing — or stenosis — of the nerve root exits, called foramina. This narrowing is usually caused by age-related degeneration of the spinal discs or from arthritis of the spinal facet joints.

Treating spine issues

Upon diagnosis, many degenerative spine conditions are treated with conservative options such as rest, hot and cold compression, medication or physical therapy. Many physicians will wait to see if a full course of this kind of treatment brings relief before starting to explore surgery as a treatment.

If you are considering surgery but are concerned about some of the risks and difficulties that come with traditional open back surgery, reach out to Laser Spine Institute. Our state-of-the-art minimally invasive spine surgery avoids the long recovery time^ associated with traditional procedures by using a shorter muscle-sparing incision.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.