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Anatomy of a Normal Spine

The spinal column is a stack of bones (vertebrae) that are separated by soft pads of tissue (disks). Each of these bones has a canal that runs top to bottom. Together these canals form a tunnel called the spinal canal. Running through this canal is a bundle of nerves and nerve cells called the spinal cord. These nerves carry signals between the brain and body. The spinal cord is surrounded by the cerebrospinal fluid and protective layers called meninges, just like the brain.

Image showing the three natural curves of the spine
The spine has three natural curves: the cervical, the thoracic, and the lumbar.

The parts of the spine

The spine is made up of the following parts:

  • The vertebrae (not including the sacrum and coccyx) are the 24 bones that connect like puzzle pieces to make up the spine.

  • The lamina of each vertebra forms the back of the spinal canal.

  • A foramen is a small opening. This is where a nerve, on each side of the spinal cord, leaves the spinal canal.

  • The transverse process is the wing of bone on either side of each vertebra.

  • The spinous process is the back part of each vertebra you can feel through your skin.

  • A disk lies between each of the vertebrae and acts as a cushion.

Image of the various parts of the vertebrae
Two vertebrae with a disk between them

Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, John, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jasmin, Luc, MD
Last Review Date: 10/5/2015
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