Understanding Spinal Anatomy: Vertebral Structures

The main structure of the human spine is the vertebral column, specialised bony structures stacked one on top of the other in such a way that the spine provides support and protection but still allows for movement and flexibility. The Neuro Spinal Hospital believes that patients should understand that the vertebrae of the human backbone are more than just simple structures. The vertebrae are actually complex structures that perform many important functions.

The outer shell of a vertebra is made of cortical bone. Cortical bone is dense, solid and strong. Inside each vertebra is cancellous bone, which resembles a honeycomb and is not as strong as cortical bone. Within the cancellous bone, the body forms bone marrow. Bone marrow is essential to human life in that it forms red blood cells and certain types of white blood cells.

By far the largest part of the veterbra is the vertebral body. If you look at the vertebral body from overhead, it has an oval shape. However, viewed from the side, the vertebral body is thicker at the outside and thinner in the middle with a somewhat “hourglass shape”. The outside of the vertebral body is covered with cortical bone for strength. Within the vertebral body is cancellous bone.

When talking about the back, a process is any protrusion or projection. A vertebral body has two short processes that stick out from the back (away from the skin surface). These two distinctive processes are called the pedicles.

The pedicles are characterized by a small notch on their upper surface and a deeper notch on their bottom surface. When the vertebrae are stacked on on top of the other, the pedicle notches create a tunnel-like passageway called the intervertebral foramen. The intervertebral foramen forms a protected area that allows nerve roots branching out of the spinal cord to emerge from the spine and connect to the rest of the body.

Extending from the pedicles on either side are two flat bones called the laminae (singular: lamina). The laminae extend from either side and join in the midline.

The human backbone is supported in part by a network of ligaments and tendons. These ligaments and tendons attach or anchor to the vertebral bodies at different processes. Some of these processes form the facet joints, which connect each vertebra to the one above and below it. The facet joints allow the spine a wide range of movement and work like a door hinge.

Each verterbral body is covered top and bottom by an important and complex structure known as the endplate. Endplates are rugged, protective structures that blend into the intervertebral disc. The intervertebral disc, sometimes just called the disc, acts like a cushion or shock absorber.

The healthy spine supports the body, allows a considerable range of motion and flexibility, forms red and some white blood cells, and protects the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. The human spine performs numerous crucial functions. For that reason, it is essential that person suffering from spinal problems seek expert care. The Neuro Spinal Hospital is very happy to discuss spinal problems and aid in their prompt, accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

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