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Spinal Anatomy

Spinal Anatomy Terms and Definitions

Anterior

The front portion of the body. Often used to indicate a structure’s position in relation to another structure.

Arthrodesis

The fusion of bones across a joint, resulting in limited movement. It may occur spontaneously or result from a surgical procedure, such as spinal fusion.

Arthropathy

Any disease or disorder of the joint.

Atlas

The topmost vertebra (C1). Named after Atlas of Greek mythology, the atlas vertebra supports the head and forms the joint between the skull and the spine.

Axis

The second cervical vertebra (C2). With the atlas vertebra (C1), it forms the atlanto-axial joint, which allows the head to turn.

Centrum

The solid central part of the vertebrae to which the arches and processes are attached.

Cervical Spine

The neck region of the spine containing the first seven vertebrae, referred to as C1, C2, C3, C4 & C5

Coccyx

The region of the spine below the sacrum. It is the triangular bone commonly called the tailbone.

Disc (Intervertebral)

The tough, elastic structure between the bodies of spinal vertebrae. Each intervertebral disc forms a fibrocartilaginous joint to allow slight movement of the vertebrae, acts as a ligament to hold vertebrae together, and serves as a shock absorber for the spine.

Distal

Positioned away from the center of the body.

Facet

A posterior structure of a vertebra that articulates with a facet of another vertebra to form a facet joint, allowing motion in the spinal column. Each vertebra has two superior and two inferior facets.

Foramen

A natural opening or passage in bone.

Iliac Bone

The part of the pelvic bone situated above the hip joint. Autogenous bone grafts are frequently obtained from iliac bone.

Iliac Crest

The large, superior portion of the ilium, or pelvic bone, that forms the hip bone.

Ilium

The uppermost and largest part of the hip bone. Divisible into two parts – the body and the wing.

Inferior

Situated below or directed downward.

Intervertebral Foramen

A foramen between two spinal vertebrae. Cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae all have intervertebral foramina

Joint

The junction or articulation of two or more bones that allows movement between the bones.

Laminae

Plates of bone that form the posterior walls of each vertebra, enclosing the spinal cord. Each vertebrae has two laminae.

Lateral

Positioned away from the midline of the body.

Ligament

A band of flexible, fibrous connective tissue that is attached at the end of a bone near a joint. Ligaments attach bones to one another, provide stability of a joint, and prevent or limit some joint motion.

Lumbar

The lower part of the spine between the thoracic region and the sacrum. The lumbar spine consists of five vertebrae, referred to as L1, L2, L3, L4 & L5.

Medial

Situated toward the midline of the body.

Nerve Root

The bony arch that surrounds the spinal cord on the posterior aspect of a vertebra. Also referred to as the vertebral arch.

Nucleus Pulposus

The semi–gelatinous tissue in the center of an intervertebral disc. It is surrounded and contained by the annulus fibrosus which prevents this material from protruding outside the disc space.

Pedicle

The thick process that extend from each side of vertebral body to help form the neural arch. Each vertebra has two pedicles that connect the lamina with the vertebral body.

Periosteum

A fibrous membrane covering the surface of all bones except at the joints of long bones. For children, periosteum is involved in forming new bone and molding the shape of bone. In adults, periosteum forms new bone following injury or infection.

Posterior

Positioned or situated behind a structure, i.e., relating to the back side of the human body.

Prosthesis

An artificial body part. Also used to describe some of the implants used in the body as replacement devices.

Proximal

Nearest the midline of the body.

Sacrum

A part of the spine that is also part of the pelvis. It consists of five fused vertebrae that have no intervertebral discs. The sacrum articulates with the ilia at the sacroiliac joints and articulates with the lumbar spine at the lumbosacral joint.

Spinal Disc

See Disc (Intervertebral)

Spinal Column

See Spine.

Spinal Canal

The bony channel formed by the intravertebral foramen, contains the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Spinal Cord

The longitudinal cord of nerve tissue enclosed in the spinal canal. It serves as a pathway for nervous impulses to and from the brain, and as a center for carrying out and coordinating many reflex actions independently of the brain.

Spine

The flexible bone column extending from the base of the skull to the tailbone. It is made up of 33 vertebrae. The first 24 vertebrae are separated by intervertebral discs and held together by ligaments and muscles. Five vertebrae are fused together to form the sacrum and 4 vertebrae are fused together to form the coccyx. The spine is also referred to as the vertebral column, spinal column, or backbone.

Superior

Situated above or directed upward toward the head.

Tendon

A fibrous band of tissue composed mainly of collagen that connects muscle to bone.

Thoracic

The region of the spine that is located between the cervical and lumbar vertebrae, i.e., the chest and mid-back area. It consists of 12 vertebrae that serve as attachment points for the ribs.

Vertebra

Each of the 33 small bones forming the spinal column. A cervical, thoracic, or lumbar vertebra has a cylindrically–shaped body anteriorly and a neural arch posteriorly that protects the spinal cord. The plural of vertebra is vertebrae.

Vertebral End–Plates

The superior and inferior plates of cortical bone of the vertebral body adjacent to the intervertebral disc.

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