Book : Human Anatomy
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Vertebral column

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Vertebral column, also called spinal column, spine, or backbone, in vertebrate animals, the flexible column extending from neck to tail, made of a series of bones, the vertebrae. The major function of the vertebral column is protection of the spinal cord; it also provides stiffening for the body and attachment for the pectoral and pelvic girdles and many muscles. In humans an additional function is to transmit body weight in walking and standing.

The vertebrae in the human vertebral column are divided into different regions, which correspond to the curves of the spinal column. The articulating vertebrae are named according to their region of the spine. Vertebrae in these regions are essentially alike, with minor variation. These regions are called the cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, sacrum and coccyx. There are seven cervical vertebrae, twelve thoracic vertebrae and five lumbar vertebrae. The number of vertebrae in a region can vary but overall the number remains the same. The number of those in the cervical region however is only rarely changed.[4] The vertebrae of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spines are independent bones, and generally quite similar. The vertebrae of the sacrum and coccyx are usually fused and unable to move independently. Two special vertebrae are the atlas and axis, on which the head rests.

Anatomy of a vertebra

A typical vertebra consists of two parts: the vertebral body and the vertebral arch. The vertebral arch is posterior, meaning it faces the back of a person. Together, these enclose the vertebral foramen, which contains the spinal cord. Because the spinal cord ends in the lumbar spine, and the sacrum and coccyx are fused, they do not contain a central foramen. The vertebral arch is formed by a pair of pedicles and a pair of laminae, and supports seven processes, four articular, two transverse, and one spinous, the latter also being known as the neural spine. Two transverse processes and one spinous process are posterior to (behind) the vertebral body. The spinous process comes out the back, one transverse process comes out the left, and one on the right. The spinous processes of the cervical and lumbar regions can be felt through the skin.

The vertebral column is characterized by a variable number of curves. In quadrupeds the column is curved in a single arc (the highest portion occurring at the middle of the back), which functions somewhat like a bow spring in locomotion. In humans this primary curve is modified by three more: (1) a sacral curve, in which the sacrum curves backward and helps support the abdominal organs, (2) an anterior cervical curve, which develops soon after birth as the head is raised, and (3) a lumbar curve, also anterior, which develops as the child sits and walks. The lumbar curve is a permanent characteristic only of humans and their bipedal forebears, though a temporary lumbar curve appears in other primates in the sitting position. The cervical curve disappears in humans when the head is bent forward but appears in other animals as the head is raised.

Surfaces of Vertebral column:

¬ Anterior surface: When viewed from in front, the width of the bodies of the vertebrae is seen to increase from the second cervical to the first thoracic; there is then a slight diminution in the next three vertebrae; below this there is again a gradual and progressive increase in width as low as the sacrovertebral angle. 

¬ Posterior surface: From behind, the vertebral column presents in the median line the spinous processes. In the cervical region (with the exception of the second and seventh vertebrae) these are short, horizontal and bifid. In the upper part of the thoracic region they are directed obliquely downward; in the middle they are almost vertical, and in the lower part they are nearly horizontal. In the lumbar region they are nearly horizontal. The spinous processes are separated by considerable intervals in the lumbar region, by narrower intervals in the neck, and are closely approximated in the middle of the thoracic region. Occasionally one of these processes deviates a little from the median line — which can sometimes be indicative of a fracture or a displacement of the spine. On either side of the spinous processes is the vertebral groove formed by the laminae in the cervical and lumbar regions, where it is shallow, and by the laminae and transverse processes in the thoracic region, where it is deep and broad; these grooves lodge the deep muscles of the back. Lateral to the spinous processes are the articular processes, and still more laterally the transverse processes. In the thoracic region, the transverse processes stand backward, on a plane considerably behind that of the same processes in the cervical and lumbar regions. In the cervical region, the transverse processes are placed in front of the articular processes, lateral to the pedicles and between the intervertebral foramina. In the thoracic region they are posterior to the pedicles, intervertebral foramina, and articular processes. In the lumbar region they are in front of the articular processes, but behind the intervertebral foramina. 

¬ Lateral surfaces: The sides of the vertebral column are separated from the posterior surface by the articular processes in the cervical and thoracic regions, and by the transverse processes in the lumbar region. In the thoracic region, the sides of the bodies of the vertebrae are marked in the back by the facets for articulation with the heads of the ribs. More posteriorly are the intervertebral foramina, formed by the juxtaposition of the vertebral notches, oval in shape, smallest in the cervical and upper part of the thoracic regions, and gradually increasing in size to the last lumbar. They transmit the special spinal nerves and are situated between the transverse processes in the cervical region, and in front of them in the thoracic and lumbar regions. 



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