Comparing and contrasting the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine vertebrae

The adult spine contains 33 vertebrae, including seven cervical (neck) vertebrae, 12 thoracic (middle back) vertebrae, between five or six lumbar (lower back) vertebrae and nine bone segments in the pelvic region that begin as separate vertebrae at birth, but fuse during childhood and adolescence to form the sacrum and the coccyx. These vertebrae possess unique characteristics that differentiate them from the other regions. Read on to learn more about the similarities and differences between the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine vertebrae.

Cervical, thoracic and lumbar similarities

Before exploring the differences among the vertebral regions, it’s important to understand that from the top of the spine to the bottom, vertebrae do, in fact, share some consistent characteristics. The most obvious is the fact that all are composed of bone. Another common characteristic is general function — the vertebrae are there primarily to support the body and protect the spinal cord.

In addition, the vertebrae are separated by cartilaginous cushions called intervertebral discs (discs in the spine). The one exception is at the very top of the spine, where the first cervical vertebra, referred to as the atlas, pivots on a flange that sticks up from the second cervical vertebra, referred to as the axis.

Cervical, thoracic and lumbar differences

The major differences among the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spinal regions lies in shape and secondary function. Here is a brief description of the characteristics unique to each region:

  • The cervical spine — is made up of smaller bones that support the weight of the head and are flexible to allow a wide range of head movement; also, the axis is the only vertebra with no vertebral body
  • The thoracic spine — is made up of larger bones than in the cervical region; they are more rigid to provide a framework for the rib cage and the torso in order to protect the inner organs
  • The lumbar spine — is made up of larger bones in the spine; they support most of the weight of the upper body and allow for bending, twisting and hip flexion

Vertebral vulnerability

Because of their weight-bearing function and relative flexibility, the cervical spine and lumbar spine are more vulnerable than the thoracic spine to degenerative conditions within the vertebrae. Chronic neck or back pain can result from spinal conditions such as herniated discs, bulging discs, degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis. If this happens to you, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how our outpatient procedures can help you find relief from pain.

Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery and has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain. Our team of board-certified surgeons+ is able to relieve your discomfort through less than 1-inch incisions that do not disrupt the muscle. Thus, out procedures result in less bleeding and a lower risk of complication compared to traditional open back surgery.^

To find out if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery, reach out to Laser Spine Institute today and ask for a no-cost MRI review.*