Questions About The Spine

Q: What are the regions of the spine?
Starting at the top, the spine has four regions with a total of 33 vertebrae:

  1. The first region is comprised of the seven cervical or neck vertebrae (labeled C1–C7).
  2. The second region is comprised of the 12 thoracic or upper back vertebrae (labeled T1–T12).
  3. The third region, known as the lower back, is comprised of the five lumbar vertebrae (labeled L1–L5).
  4. The fourth region is known as the sacrum and coccyx. This group of nine bones (5 in the sacral and 4 4 in the coccygeal region) is fused together at the base of the spine.

Q: Is the spinal column straight?
No. The spinal column has three gradual curves. These curves serve to increase spine strength, maintain balance in upright positions, absorb shock when walking, and protect the spinal cord from injury. Abnormal spine curvature (scoliosis) usually occurs in the thoracic region due to a congenital condition, sciatica, poor posture, one leg being shorter than the other, or paralysis of muscles on one side of the body.

Q: What is the spinal canal?
The spinal canal is a tube formed by the stacked vertebrae.

Q: Are all vertebrae the same size?
No. Although vertebrae differ in size and shape in the different regions of the spinal column, they all share the same structure. The exception is the first and second cervical vertebrae which differ structurally in order to support the skull.

Q: How long is the spinal cord?
An adult male has a spinal cord roughly 18 inches in length. An adult woman has a spinal cord roughly 17 inches in length. The spinal cord extends from the brain to the lower back. An injury to the spinal cord can cause a
loss of communication between the brain and the parts of the body below the injury.

Q: What keeps the vertebrae from rubbing together?
Each of the 24 moveable vertebrae in your spine are separated and cushioned by an intervertebral disc. The discs, which account for ¼ the length of the spinal cord, serve as shock absorbers and allow movement of the spinal column.

Q: Does the spinal cord have nerves?
Thirty-one pairs of spinal nerves branch off the spinal cord. The nerves are numbered according to the vertebrae above which it exits the spinal column.

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