The spine is an incredible part of the human anatomy. Known also as the vertebral column or spinal column, the adult spine is composed of 26 bones: 24 individual vertebrae that are interspaced with cartilage, plus the sacrum and the coccyx. The first seven vertebrae form the cervical spine (the neck); the thoracic spine (midback) consists of 12 vertebrae; and the lowest part of the spine, the lumbar spine, has five vertebrae.
Each vertebra is named by the first letter of its region (cervical, thoracic or lumbar) and a number to indicate its position. For example, C3 is the third vertebrae in the cervical spine. L5 would be the fifth vertebrae in the lumbar spine.
Five fascinating facts about the spine
If you are like the typical American adult, you have experienced back pain at some point in your life. While you likely already know about the function of the spine and common conditions that affect it, such as arthritis, degenerative disc disease, scoliosis or herniated disc, you may find these five interesting facts about the spine surprising.
- Humans are actually born with 33 vertebrae, but as we grow, four of those fuse together to develop the coccyx, or tailbone. Five others fuse together to form the sacrum, a triangular bone situated between the hip bones of the pelvis.
- In addition to the vertebrae, there are more than 200 muscles in the back, 120 of which support the spine.
- The spine does not form a straight line. Rather, it has three natural curves and is so flexible, it can form two-thirds of a complete circle when bent. It is also quite strong and can typically withstand weight up to 220 pounds.
- You are tallest when you first wake up in the morning. As the day goes on, gravity pulls on your spine, shrinking the cartilage. Much like astronauts who return to earth taller because the zero-gravity environment allows for the cartilage between the vertebrae to expand, during the hours you are asleep, gravity is not pulling down on your spine, thereby allowing the cartilage to expand.
- Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, and back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work and visits to the doctor’s office. Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain.
Taking good care of your spine
The spine is one of the most important parts of the human body. It supports our weight, keeps us upright and plays an important role in movement. It’s most important function, however, is protecting the spinal cord. Within the spinal cord are nerves that connect your brain to the rest of your body, controlling movement and body function. Without a spinal cord, you would not be able to move and the organs in your body would be unable to function.
That’s why it’s important to take care of your spine. Regular exercise — including core-strengthening exercises to support the spine — and good posture can help protect the spine from damage or injury. Eating the right foods provides essential nutrients to help keep the spine healthy. Allow your spine to rest while sleeping with good support from your mattress and pillows. Practice good posture and ergonomics while sitting and limit the amount of time you spend sitting each day.
If you suffer from aches or pain in your spine, don’t wait until it gets worse to seek treatment. Identifying and correcting problems with your spine can help prevent serious back pain down the road. Contact Houston’s experienced spine doctor, Dr. Vivek Kushwaha, today.