An individual bone within the spinal column is called a vertebra. There are 33 vertebrae within the spine, connected by tendons, muscles and ligaments. They are separated by cartilaginous cushions called spinal discs. Together, the vertebrae form a flexible foundation to support and protect the spinal cord and its nerve roots.

Vertebral regions

Each vertebra’s named is based on its location within one of the five spinal regions — the cervical (neck), thoracic (upper and middle back), lumbar (lower back), sacral (pelvis) and coccygeal (tailbone).

There are seven cervical vertebrae (C1 to C7), 12 thoracic (T1 to T12), five lumbar (L1 to L5), five fused sacral (S1 to S5) and four small vertebrae in the coccyx. The vertebrae in the lumbar spine are increasingly more susceptible to damage over time because they are responsible for supporting the majority of the body’s weight and movement. Likewise, cervical vertebrae undergo constant motion with each tilt and turn of the head, leaving them susceptible to deterioration as well. The thoracic vertebrae, on the other hand, do not often experience damage with age because they are connected to the rib cage for added support and stability.

Anatomical components of a vertebra

While each region plays a distinct role, the anatomical components of the individual vertebrae remain fairly consistent from top to bottom. With a few exceptions, each vertebra consists of:

  • Vertebral body — This is the main, load-bearing portion of the spinal vertebra. The only vertebra without a vertebral body is the C1 vertebra.
  • Pedicles — These are bony projections that connect the vertebral body to the back of the spine.
  • Lamina — These are the bony segments that protect the spinal canal.
  • Spinous process — This piece of bone projects off the rear of the vertebra and can be felt along the middle of the back.
  • Articular processes — These bony projections connect the vertebrae.
  • Facet joints — These joints form where the articular processes meet.
  • Transverse processes — These are bony projections that serve as points of attachment for muscles and ligaments.

Spinal conditions and pain management

The closeness of a vertebra to the nerve roots can lead to neck or back pain. This is because a vertebra affected by a spinal condition such as spinal stenosis, foraminal stenosis or a bone spur can press against one of these nearby nerve roots and cause pain. As we age, these spinal conditions are more likely to develop and may cause painful nerve compression.

Laser Spine Institute specializes in relieving the nerve compression associated with these and other spinal conditions through our minimally invasive spine surgery. Using state-of-the-art techniques, our surgeons perform minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures on an outpatient basis. These procedures are often the clinically appropriate first choice over traditional spine surgery.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today to take the next step toward reclaiming your life from chronic neck or back pain. We can provide a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.