In addition to giving the spine strength the
vertebrae also provide essential protection for the spinal cord
- the body's biggest nerve. The spinal cord carries impulses from
the brain to the arms, legs and body, and then carries messages
back from those areas to keep the brain informed. Hundreds of individual
nerves connect the spinal cord to the various parts of the human
body. If the spinal cord is damaged then paralysis will result -
the precise nature of the paralysis depending on the place where
the spinal cord is damaged.
Your spine is made up of 26 separate bones or
vertebrae though two of these consist of several small vertebral
bones fixed together. All these bones fit one on top of the other
like a pile of children's building bricks. The bones at the top
of the spine - where the skull fits on top - are smallest, while
the bones at the bottom - where they fit into the bones of the pelvis
- are largest.
Right at the bottom of spine is the sacrum (which
is made up of the sacral vertebrae) and then the coccyx (which is
also made of bones which are normally joined together).
Although we have said that these bones in your
back are balanced one on top of the other like a pile of building
bricks there is one very important difference, your spine is not
straight. Indeed, it has no less than four separate curves which
are there to make your spine more capable of coping with stresses
Each of the vertebrae in your spine connects
to the one above it and below it. Consider the fourth thoracic vertebra,
for example. Above, the 'superior articular process' fits onto the
'inferior articular process' of the third thoracic vertebra, and
below, the 'inferior articular process' fits onto the 'superior
articular process' of the fifth thoracic vertebra. Because they
vary in size your vertebrae are all different but there are some
important similarities between them. It is this series of joints
which gives your spine its majority of them.
The more complicated part of the vertebral bone
is at the back and is called the 'neural arch'. At the front of
each one there is a solid block of bone called the 'body' of the
vertebra. This has a hole in the middle of it through which the
spinal cord runs.
Right at the top the first cervical vertebra
is joined onto the bottom of your skull.
The 12 ribs which give your chest strength and
which protect your lungs and heart are attached to your thoracic
vertebrae. Without them you would collapse on the floor if you were
bumped just as easily as a pile of building bricks falls over if
And at the bottom of your spine the sacral bones
are joined onto your hip bones, these are not, however, the only
joints holding your spine together, there are, altogether, nearly
150 joints in your spine.
Further information can be found at:
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