Vertebral Column

Illustration of the vertebral column from a lateral view.

The vertebral column (also called backbone or spine) is the central bony axis of our body. The spine is composed of 33 contiguous building blocks called the vertebrae. Interposed between the contiguous vertebral bodies are the intervertebral discs, which are cartilaginous discs that cushion these intervertebral joints.

The overall shape of the vertebral column is curved and often described as a double S when observed from a lateral perspective.

The vertebral column reaches from the skull down to the pelvis and is organized into a cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal parts.

The spine anatomy is closely linked to its functions. Each vertebra features an opening called the vertebral foramen. The foramina of the vertebrae are continuous, enclosing what’s called the vertebral canal. The vertebral canal is traversed by the spinal cord. Thus, the main functions of the spine is to protect the vulnerable spinal cord.

Moreover, the vertebrae of the lower spine regions are more massive compared to those of the upper regions, in order to bear the weight of the whole upper body. So, another important function of the spine is to bear and transmit the body weight during walking and standing. It also allows a multitude of movements and provides muscle attachments for numerous trunk muscles.

Learn the anatomy of the vertebral column using our interactive diagrams below, or upgrade your anatomy learning with video tutorials and advanced quizzes.