The Vertebral Column


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Illustration A shows all the vertebrae in a vertebral column. Illustration B shows that different sections of vertebrae curve in different directions. The cervical vertebrae in the neck curve toward the front of the body. The top cervical vertebrae is called the atlas, or c 1.  The next bone down is the c 2, or axis.  There are 7 cerebral vertebrae.  Next are the thoracic vertebrae, which extend from the neck to the bottom of the rib cage, curve toward the back of the body.  These are labeled as T h 1, which is the first thoracic vertebrae below the cervicals, to t h 12, which is the lowest of the thoracic vertebrae.  Next are the lumbar vertebrae, which extend to the bottom of the back, curve toward the front again. These lumbar vertebrae are labeled L 1, which is the next vertebrae below the thoracics, thorugh L 5, which is the lowest lumbar vertebrae.  The sacrum and the coccygeal vertebrae make up the sacral curve that curves toward the back.  The sacrum is above the coccyx.
(a) The vertebral column consists of seven cervical vertebrae (C1–7) twelve thoracic vertebrae (Th1–12), five lumbar vertebrae (L1–5), the os sacrum, and the coccyx. (b) Spinal curves increase the strength and flexibility of the spine. (credit a: modification of work by Uwe Gille based on original work by Gray’s Anatomy; credit b: modification of work by NCI, NIH)

OpenStax Biology 2e

The vertebral column, or spinal column, surrounds and protects the spinal cord, supports the head, and acts as an attachment point for the ribs and muscles of the back and neck. The adult vertebral column comprises 26 bones: the 24 vertebrae, the sacrum, and the coccyx bones. In the adult, the sacrum is typically composed of five vertebrae that fuse into one. The coccyx is typically 3–4 vertebrae that fuse into one. Around the age of 70, the sacrum and the coccyx may fuse together. We begin life with approximately 33 vertebrae, but as we grow, several vertebrae fuse together. The adult vertebrae are further divided into the 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, and 5 lumbar vertebrae.

Each vertebral body has a large hole in the center through which the nerves of the spinal cord pass. There is also a notch on each side through which the spinal nerves, which serve the body at that level, can exit from the spinal cord. The vertebral column is approximately 71 cm (28 inches) in adult male humans and is curved, which can be seen from a side view. The names of the spinal curves correspond to the region of the spine in which they occur. The thoracic and sacral curves are concave (curve inwards relative to the front of the body) and the cervical and lumbar curves are convex (curve outwards relative to the front of the body). The arched curvature of the vertebral column increases its strength and flexibility, allowing it to absorb shocks like a spring (Figure 38.8).

Intervertebral discs composed of fibrous cartilage lie between adjacent vertebral bodies from the second cervical vertebra to the sacrum. Each disc is part of a joint that allows for some movement of the spine and acts as a cushion to absorb shocks from movements such as walking and running. Intervertebral discs also act as ligaments to bind vertebrae together. The inner part of discs, the nucleus pulposus, hardens as people age and becomes less elastic. This loss of elasticity diminishes its ability to absorb shocks.

Source:

Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e