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What Has Your Back: The Basic Anatomy of the Spinal Column

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Bones & Joints related image Photo: Getty Images

I am the guilty one--guilty of taking my back for granted. Unless it is giving me trouble of any kind, I usually do not think much about it. However, our spinal column, also known as our back bone, does a great deal of work for our bodies, and I suppose I should be grateful for the healthy one I have.

The spinal column is made up mainly of vertebrae, discs, and the spinal cord. Much like myself on any stress-filled day (translated: every day!), the spinal cord is comprised of a bundle of nerves, nerve cells, and fibers that are wrapped together going down from the brain to the lower back.

Vertebrae serve to protect the cord, and those vertebrae are separated by discs. As the brain sends electrical signals through the spinal cord, we can freely move our arms, legs, and other parts of our bodies.

Thirty-three vertebrae comprise the bone anatomy of the spinal column, and the last four are fused together to create the tailbone. A soft substance called a disc separates each vertebra. These discs cushion and seal simultaneously.

The basic anatomy of the back bone is made up of the cervical spine, the thoracic spine, and the lumbosacral spine. There are seven cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic ones, and five in the lumbar region.

The cervical area of the spine allows for flexion, extension, bending, and movement of the head. The thoracic region allows mostly for rotation. The lumbar area is provides for forward-bending and backward-bending. Bending to the side is also made possible by this area of the spine.

The spinal column also recognizes the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions, with each part of the cord divided into certain neurological segments. In the cervical area of the spinal cord, there are eight levels that allow for function in the neck and in the arms. In the thoracic area, the nerves of the spinal cord support the chest muscles that aid in breathing and in coughing. The lumbar region reports to the legs, pelvis, bowel, and bladder functions.

Many nerve pathways send signals up and down the spinal cord, supplying sensation from the skin and outer portions of the body.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.