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How the spine works | About the spine | Norwich Spine Clinic

Norwich Spine Clinic

For appointments or confidential
discussion call 01603 505 063

The Norwich Spine Clinic is based at
the Spire Norwich Hospital, Norfolk
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Information for GPs

Your spine is one of the most important and complex parts of your body - keeping it healthy is vital if you want to lead an active and pain free life.

How the Spine works

Your spine provides both incredible strength and extreme flexibility on many levels.

The spine gives your body structure and support. Without it you could not stand up or keep yourself upright. It allows you to move about freely and to bend with flexibility.

The spine is also protects your spinal cord - the column of nerves that connects your brain to the rest of your body, allowing you to control your movements. Without a spinal cord you could not move any part of your body, and your organs could not function.

The Spinal Column

The spinal column has three main sections that join together to form an S-like curve when viewed sideways

Cervical spine

The neck region containing the top seven spinal vertebrae. It is the most flexible and mobile part of the spine, enabling you to move your head freely from side to side and up and down. Two unique vertebrae, the atlas and the axis, are specially adapted to enable such rotation.

Thoracic spine

The middle section of the back, made up of 12 vertebrae. Located below the cervical spine, this area connects to your ribs. This part of the spine has more limited movement so the spinal column is narrower and discs are smaller and thinner.

Lumbar spine

The 'lower back' consisting of 5 vertebrae and the sacrum. The lumbar is located below the thoracic section of the spine. The lower back bears a great deal of the weight of the body and for that reason is particularly vulnerable to back pain.

Important structures
of the Spine

The spine is a made up of highly sensitive nerves, flexible ligaments, large muscles and strong bones.

Vertebrae

Your spine is made up of 24 small bones, called vertebrae that are stacked on top of each other and extend from your skull to your pelvis. They protect and support the spinal cord and bear the majority of the weight put upon your spine.

The front of each vertebra is solid and is called the vertebral body. Behind the body of each vertebra is an arch of bone called the lamina. The arches form a hollow tube known as the spinal canal, for the spinal cord to pass through.

Nerves

A pair of spinal nerves branch out (one to the left and one to the right) from each vertebra. These nerves are called nerve roots and pass through gaps in the arches where they join up to provide sensation and movement to parts of the body. The gaps are called foramens, which are covered by the discs at the front and the facet joints at the back.

Discs

These are soft pads that act as shock absorbers and prevent the bones from rubbing against each other. Each disc has a strong outer ring of fibres called the annulus, and a soft, jelly-like centre called the nucleus pulposus.

Spinal cord

This is a column of millions of nerve fibres carrying messages from your brain to the rest of your body. It extends from the brain down to the lower thoracic/ upper lumbar vertebrae. Below this level, the spinal canal contains a group of nerve fibers, called the cauda equina, that go to the pelvis and lower limbs.

A protective membrane, called the dura mater covers the spinal cord and forms a watertight sac containing spinal fluid.

Joints

Each vertebra also has two sets of joints called facet joints which, along with the discs, allows the spine to be flexible allowing us to lead a normal and active lifestyle.

Ligaments

The vertebrae are also held together by tough bands called ligaments. Together with the spinal muscles, these give the back its strength.