Anatomy of the Spine 101: Understanding your body

Vertebrae, nerves, and discs… oh my! What may seem like a highly technical and scientific part of our bodies is actually quite simple. And in personal injury cases, where spinal injuries are some of the most common injuries, it is of the utmost importance that you understand your injury and your body. From auto accidents to slip and falls, there are a number of ways that your spine can suffer harm.

To put it in perspective, consider the following statistics on spinal cord injuries in the United States:

• Approximately 17,000 new spinal cord injuries occur each year in the United States.
• Auto accidents are the leading cause of spinal injury at 38%, while falls come in close second at 30.5%.

The spine, commonly referred to as the “backbone,” is made up of 33 individual bones called vertebrae. Those vertebrae are divided up into five regions: 1. Cervical, 2. Thoracic, 3. Lumbar, 4. Sacral, and 5. Coccygeal.

The cervical region, often referred to as the neck, is made up of seven vertebrae the two topmost of which are connected to your skull, and all of which support your head. The thoracic region (think upper-back) is underneath the cervical region and is made up of 12 vertebrae. The thoracic vertebrae support your rib cage to help protect your heart and lungs. The lumbar region, or low-back, is made up of five vertebrae and bears the weight of your body. Next, the Sacrum region is made up of five vertebrae that are fused together creating the “pelvic girdle,” a bony structure that connects your legs to your body and also supports your intestines, bladder and other organs. Last, but certainly not least, the Coccygeal region, or Coccyx, is fused like the sacrum, and makes up the three to five vertebrae at the very bottom of your spine. While you may only acknowledge this part of your spine on those unlucky occasions when you fall heavily on your rear, an undoubtedly painful event, the coccyx also serves an important purpose in your body’s functioning. Though small, the coccyx is an attachment site for tendons, ligaments, and muscles, and stabilizes your body while you are in a sitting position.

In between each vertebrae rests a fibrocartilage structure called a “disc.” Discs allow your spine to move while holding the vertebrae together. On the other hand, they also keep the vertebrae apart, in a good way. Think of your discs as shock absorbers that allow you to engage in vigorous physical activity while preventing compression of your vertebrae.

While discs serve their purposes of separating vertebrae, there are areas where the vertebrae come in contact. Those areas are called “facet joints.” There are two facet joints for each vertebra. We owe our essential movements (twisting and bending forward, backward, and side to side) to facet joints.

Together, the vertebrae and discs create an interior space that runs the length of your spine: the spinal canal. The spinal canal holds the spinal cord, an essential part of our anatomy. Your spinal cord is made of nerves and connects to your brain, thereby controlling senses, muscles, and use of your limbs.

Now that we’ve examined the individual components of your spine, let’s look at this structure as a whole. When you look in a mirror and turn to the side, you will notice three natural curves creating an “S” shape. These curves serve an important function: helping your spine withstand stress by distributing body weight. From your topmost cervical vertebrae to the curvature in your lumbar spine, the spine serves a vital function in our day-to-day life.

If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal injury as a result of the wrongful conduct of another, contact a personal injury attorney immediately. Gomez Trial Attorneys specializes in spinal injuries and works tirelessly to seek justice for those who have been wrongfully harmed.


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