Vertebrae are the actual individual bones that make up the spinal column. These specialized bones are stacked on top of one another, with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on the top, with very few exceptions. In between each bone is an intervertebral disc. These spacers act as cushions in between each bone segment. Working together, these bones support more than half of the body’s total weight and provide the wonderful flexibility of the human spine.
This discussion focuses on explaining the spinal bones and detailing how the natural design of the backbone makes humans so incredibly versatile in movement and functionality.
The 7 bones in the cervical spine are at the top of the backbone. These are light in weight and structure, with their primary job being to support and move the head throughout a full extensive range of motion. Being that this constant movement will increase the wear and tear on the spinal bones, the vertebral structures in the neck typically demonstrate deterioration which is noticeable after the age of 30 to 40 in most people.
The 12 bones in the thoracic spine come next, with these taking a largely supportive and protective role. The ribs join with the thoracic bones to protect the internal organs in a cage of bone. These vertebral structures form our torso and are heavy in weight and durable in design. Being that the thoracic bones do not have to move as often, significant spinal degeneration is virtually unseen here, even in older people.
The 5 bones of the lumbar spine are the heaviest and most structurally solid of all the vertebral structures. They must provide a full range of motion for the entire upper body. Wear and tear is most noticeable in the lumbar region, with most people demonstrating obvious deterioration by the age of 30 and many, far younger.
Below the lumbar vertebral structures, reside the sacrum and finally the coccyx. These are both pieces of fused bone rather than individual vertebral components.
Wonderful Vertebrae Design
It is the evolutionary development of vertebra that allows mammals to have such flexibility and incredible athleticism. The spine is only as strong as the weakest vertebra in any given region.
The shape of individual vertebrae contribute to their many uses. The individual bones in the spine all have a shape that allows for maximum strength, while still affording movement and protection for the spinal cord and internal bodily organs.
The spinous process and transverse process are the bony fins that project from the rear of the spine. These are the ridges you can feel through your skin when you touch the spinal bones. These parts of the vertebral bones are more fragile than the actual vertebral body, which is thicker, flatter and stronger.
The spine is a marvelous structure which has only recently been implicated in causing a wide range of back and neck pain conditions, after serving humankind well for countless generations.
Even the vertebral bones are deeply involved in this blame game, most commonly during the diagnosis of osteoarthritis or facet joint syndrome. Of course, sometimes the spinal bones are at fault for causing pain and even spinal instability, such as in the case of advanced osteoporosis. However, typically the vertebral bones are well designed and meant to last a lifetime under normal usage.