Spinal Anatomy Overview
The spine is a very complex collection of bones that provides the main support for the human body. It is designed to be very structurally supportive as well as very flexible. Thus it is not simply made up of one big bone but a collection of 33 bones that all move together in perfect harmony when in good structural alignment. What is also really amazing about the spine is that it has a very important job of protecting your lifeline, the spinal cord, and all of the nerves exiting out the spine which connect your brain to all of your body parts. Understanding more about the importance of a healthy spine by reviewing the spinal anatomy can help patients benefiting from chiropractic adjustments.
What Do Chiropractic Adjustments Do To Your Anatomy For the Spine?
The spine, from front to back, should appear as a very straight line. Sometimes there will be curvatures in the spine and if curved enough can be considered a scoliosis. From the side the spine has some important curves. The curve in the neck (cervical) and lower back( lumbar) are called lordotic because they have a concave curve which open to the back. The middle back (thoracic) and sacral regions have a mild convex curve which open toward the front of the body. These curves are extremely important. They allow the spine to absorb shock and maintain good balance as well as allow for good range of motion between each vertebrae and of the entire spinal column as well.
Parts of a Healthy Spine
The spinal column itself is divided into 4 sections:
The neck is made up of the first 7 bones in the body and labeled from C1-C7. They provide support for the neck as well as allow for great ROM. The first two bones of the body are specialized bones which allow for this great range of motion. The first vertebra (C1) is known as atlas because it supports your world(your head) just as the greek god Atlas supported the world. It is ring-shaped and connects via muscles and ligaments to the skull to allow for a “yes” movement of the head. The atlas also connects to the second bone(C2) has an upward projection called the odontoid process that lets the atlas pivot around and creates the “no” movement of the head.
Many chiropractors only focus on this area of the spine because it is so important. The reason is that directly in the center of these bones is the downward projection of the brain called the brainstem. Even the slightest misalignment of the spine in this region could put stress on the brainstem affecting not only structures in the surrounding area but in the entire body due to the neurological connections extending down from this area.
The main role of the thoracic spine is to support the rib cage and protect the heart and lungs as well as the spinal cord in the center of the back. There are 12 vertebrae in this region labeled from T1-T12.
Lumbar (low back)
The main function of the lumbar spine is to support the weight of the upper torso. There are five lumbar vertebrae are numbered from L1 to L5. You will notice that these vertebrae are larger than the others because of the tremendous amount of stress they support
The sacrum connects the spine or axial portion of the body to the hips and the rest of the what is referred to as the appendicular portion of the body. There are 5 sacral vertebrae that fuse as you get older.
Coccyx- This region is made up of 4 fused bones and provides an area for many ligament and muscular attachments that make up what is referred to as the pelvic floor.
In between each vertebrae, with the exception of the skull and C1, C1 and C2, and the fused vertebrae in the sacrum and coccyx, is a vertebral disc. The vertebral discs are made up of an inner gel like portion called the nucleus pulposus. This portion is designed to cushion as well as provide some separation between the vertebrae of the spine. The outer fibrous labor is called the annulus fibrosis and provides support for the discs.
The Spinal Cord
The spinal cord is the downward extension of the brain! It is extremely important and often overlooked. As stated before the spinal cord connects the brain to the body. It communicates the brain’s messages to all of the organs, tissues, and cells in the body to allow you to function. The reason chiropractors work on the spine is because of this delicate and powerful organ. Without a healthy functioning spinal cord the body can never function at its optimal level. Chiropractors look at the spine to determine if there is any interference or dysfunction causing neurological interference. When these areas, called subluxations, are located, a chiropractor will use a specific, scientific force to remove these subluxations thus restoring optimal function to an individual.