Understanding the spinal vertebrae

The human spine contains approximately 33 vertebrae, which are bones with a channel for nerves stacked on top of each other to make up the vertebral column. The vertebrae protect the spinal cord, support the upper body and serve as a base of attachment for spinal muscles, tendons and spinal ligaments.

While the construction of the spine offers a combination of rigidity and flexibility, it also makes it vulnerable to age-related deterioration and injury. If you are suffering from neck or back pain, a clear understanding of the vertebrae can help you get treatment that offers relief and a return to mobility.

Basic anatomy of the vertebrae

Beginning at the base of the skull and continuing down to the pelvic area, the vertebral column is divided into five regions:

  • Cervical — Seven bones in the neck area
  • Thoracic — 12 bones in the chest
  • Lumbar — Five to six bones in the lower back
  • Sacrum — Five fused bones in the pelvis
  • Coccyx — Three to five 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 are relatively small. This allows these vertebrae to support the head and allow a large range of neck movement. The lumbar vertebrae are larger so they can 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 toward the lumbar region.

An individual vertebra consists of the vertebral body, transverse processes, pedicles, articular processes, laminae and the spinous process. The oval-shaped body is the main part of the vertebra providing an attachment point for spinal 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 openings between vertebrae, known as the foramina.

Laser Spine Institute

Vertebrae and their surrounding tissue are subject to a number of conditions that can cause symptoms like pain and stiffness in the neck and back, as well as numbness and tingling in the extremities, among other symptoms. While conservative treatment can offer meaningful relief for many patients, surgery can become an option for chronic pain when other methods have been exhausted.

Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, which is an alternative to the long and difficult recovery times that come with traditional open spine procedures. If you’re experiencing chronic neck or back pain, contact Laser Spine Institute for a no-cost MRI review* to learn if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.