The spine is both relatively simple and amazingly complex. It consists of 33 vertebrae, or backbones, stacked atop one another, from the tailbone to the base of the skull.
The spine, also known as the spinal column, gives shape to the torso and allows us to walk upright. It also protects the spinal cord, one component of the central nervous system. In this sense, it is easy to see the purpose and usefulness of the spine.
However, when even one component of one vertebra is off by a minuscule amount, it can cause debilitating back pain and even affect other parts of the body such as the arms, the legs, the bladder or the bowels.
Each vertebra has a number of parts:
- The vertebral body acts as the main structure of the spinal column, carrying about 80 percent of the body’s weight while standing. Attached to the top is a vertebral disc, which serves as a shock absorber.
- Two pedicles jut out from the vertebral body toward the rear. The pedicles help encase the spinal cord and act as a bridge between the vertebral body and the rest of the vertebra.
- The lamina is attached to the pedicles and completes the circle of protection around the spinal cord.
- Attached to the lamina are a number of bony processes, to which attaches muscles or ligaments that connect vertebrae above and below.
- Each vertebra is also attached to the vertabrae above and below it at the pedicles. These connections are called facet (pronounced fuh-SET) joints.
- Finally, in the middle, flanked by the vertebral body, pedicles and lamina, is a hollow space called the spinal canal, through which runs the spinal cord.