Understanding Spinal Anatomy Helps you Talk to your Doctors

Veritas Health strives to help our readers understand their spine conditions so they can partner with their doctors and therapists to get the best possible treatment and move on with their lives.

To help with this goal, we recently added the Spine Anatomy Interactive Video to our Spine-health Video Library to help you become more familiar with your spine's anatomy and what could go wrong. Below are some highlights from the video.

Video highlights

Our spines are made up of bones, nerves, tendons, muscles, and ligaments that are all connected and work together to support our bodies and allow us to bend and twist.

See Normal Spinal Anatomy

If damage occurs to any of these parts of our spines, it could result in pain, neurological symptoms, and/or loss of mobility.

The building blocks of the spine are the vertebrae, made up of bone. This is an image of 1 vertebrae.

See Vertebrae in the Vertebral Column

The neck has 7 cervical vertebrae.

See Cervical Vertebrae

The upper back has 12 thoracic vertebrae.

See Thoracic Spine Anatomy and Upper Back Pain

And the lower back has 5 lumbar vertebrae.

See Lumbar Spine Anatomy and Pain

Each segment of the spine is made up of 3 components. The 1st component is a bony, cylinder-shaped part of the vertebrae, called a vertebral body, shown here in purple.

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The 2nd component of a segment is the disc, made up of cartilage, shown here in purple.

See Spinal Discs

And the 3rd component are the facet joints in the back, shown here in purple.

See Facet Joint Disorders and Back Pain

Segments are named for their upper and lower vertebrae. For example, this segment is called the C6-C7 segment.

The spinal cord runs in a canal from the neck down to the lumbar (lower spine), and is protected by the bones in the spinal column.

See Spinal Cord and Spinal Nerve Roots

In the lumbar spine, the nerves branch out from the spinal cord and exit the spine. These nerves are called the cauda equina because they resemble a horse's tail.

See Cauda Equina Syndrome

The nerves exit each segment from small holes, shown here, called the foramen.

This is an area that can cause pain and/or neurological symptoms as the nerve roots exit if they are being compressed. Compression may occur from:

The pain may radiate along the pathway of the nerve.These symptoms are called radiculopathy, and in the legs, these symptoms are called sciatica.

See Cauda Equina Syndrome Symptoms

Another source of pain or dysfunction may originate in the discs between the vertebrae, shown here in purple. The discs act as shock absorbers, and allow the spine to move and twist.

Over time, discs can degenerate and become a source of pain. When this happens, the condition is known as degenerative disc disease, or DDD

If the soft inner part of the disc leaks out and impinges on nearby nerves, called a herniated disc, the nerve can become inflamed and painful.

Pain may radiate along the path of the nerve root into the arms or legs, depending on which nerve is being irritated.

Another source of pain could occur in the sacroiliac joint.

See Sacroiliac Joint Anatomy

The sacrum, shown here, connects the base of the spine with the pelvis at the sacroiliac joint.

If these joints are too loose or too tight, they can cause back pain. This condition is known as sacroiliac joint dysfunction, or SI joint pain.

The tailbone, or coccyx, sits below the sacrum and consists of several small bones. Tailbone pain may occur if any part of this area is damaged.

See Coccydynia (Tailbone Pain)

All these structures in your spine are held together by a connected series of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Soft tissue damage to any of these can also cause pain.

See Pulled Back Muscle and Lower Back Strain

Learn more:

Spinal Anatomy and Back Pain

Sacroiliac Joint Anatomy

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