Get to Know the Spine: Vertebrae 101

The spinal column

The spinal column is literally the backbone of your body. It is involved in almost every way that you move your body, and works tirelessly to protect your spinal cord from devastating injury. While everybody is familiar with the spine, most people aren’t really aware of what it’s made up of, or how the different parts affect one another. So let’s take a look at one of the most important parts of the spinal column: the vertebrae.

What Are Vertebrae?

Overall, the spine is made up of 33 bones, known as the vertebrae, which are stacked on top of one another. These vertebrae make up the bulk of the spine, interlocking to give your spine the healthy curvature that proper posture promotes. As these vertebrae run the length of the body, they cover a lot of ground, with the five main sections of the spine each serving a specific purpose. Following is a quick run through of the basics of each section of vertebrae, and the role that it plays in overall spinal health.

Cervical: the cervical vertebrae are seven bones (numbered C1 to C7) that make up the neck. Their main function is to support the head, which weighs about ten pounds. These vertebrae connect directly to the base of your skull, and have the greatest range of motion in your spine. This range of motion is primarily due to the C1 and C2 vertebrae. These are the top two vertebrae, and allow you to both nod your head to say ‘yes,’ and shake your head to say ‘no,’ respectively. Injuries to these vertebrae can be life-changing, including paralysis, and occur from incidents like diving or motor vehicle accidents.

Thoracic: these twelve vertebrae (numbered T1 to T12) make up the mid back. Since these take up a good portion of the torso, their main function is the protection of internal organs. They keep the rib cage secure, which in turn keeps organs like the heart and lungs protected from damage. Compared to the mobility in the cervical vertebrae, the thoracic vertebrae have quite a limited range of motion going up and down, but are quite flexible when twisting side to side. .
Lumbar: these five vertebrae (numbered L1 to L5) constitute your lower back. Due to their Herculean job, to bear the weight of the body, these vertebrae are much larger, and act as stress absorbers when you need to move or lift heavy objects. For these reasons, lots of back pain begins in these load-bearing vertebrae.

Sacrum: the five vertebrae that make up the sacrum are fused together. The sacrum are part of the pelvis, and work to connect your spinal column to your hip bones. A common injury to the sacrum vertebrae is a broken pelvis, which can result in pain when sitting, and swelling and tenderness in the buttocks.

Coccyx: another name for the four fused vertebrae of the coccyx is the tailbone. Their main function is the attach the muscles and ligaments of your pelvis to the spinal column. A coccyx injury is the medical name for what most people would refer to as a broken tailbone, and can even lead to using a rubber ring for sitting, if severe enough.

Schedule an Appointment with Petett Chiropractic

At Petett Chiropractic, we know the ins and outs of the vertebrae, and how to help get your spine in great shape. If you are suffering from an ongoing condition, an injury, or a malfunction, schedule a consultation with our Renton chiropractors to explore a safe alternative treatment to assist your healing.