Consisting of 23 spongy discs, 31 segments, 33 vertebrae, and four joints per vertebra, the human spine is remarkably durable and flexible. It’s also what connects the brain to the rest of the body, and it’s something you depend on every single day to move. Keep reading to discover ten fun facts about the spine, brought to you by the spinal health experts from The Spine Institute, the pioneers in back surgery Santa Monica patients turn to for the most innovative treatments available.
The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. The thousands of nerve bundles in the spinal cord branch out to connecting nerves and transmit signals throughout the body, which is why spinal cord injuries can result in the disruption of nerve signals going to and from the brain.
A big part of what the spine does is act as a link between the brain and the main parts of the body. However, there are times when the spinal cord can send signals directly to muscles without commands from the brain.
The spine plays a role in controlling things you want to do along with involuntary actions your body needs to perform automatically. Voluntary movements include things like kicking a ball or picking up utensils to eat. Examples of involuntary muscle actions include digestive processes and the movement your diaphragm makes when you breathe.
When viewed with all its supporting parts, the spine looks like a very large structure, but the spinal cord itself is surprisingly thin. In fact, it ranges between .4 and .6 inches in diameter.
Most people associate grey matter (which is made up of clusters of neurons) with the brain, but it can also be found in the spine. In the brain, it’s located along the outside, and in the spine, it’s nestled within the spinal cord. White matter, which contains the “wiring” necessary for essential nerve-related communications, is also found in both the brain and spine.
The human spine itself will continue to grow until a person is around 18 years old. However, the spinal cord stops growing after the first 4–5 years of life. The rest of the body will continue to grow as well, but the spinal cord will remain about 16–20 inches in length.
Let’s say you stub your toe. Even as it heals, it will still be sensitive to pain. The reason this happens is because nerves in the spine transmit signals more easily to the injured area. It’s believed that a type of memory-related molecule known as PKMzeta is responsible for “recording” instances of pain and increasing the spinal cord’s sensitivity.
The spine can be affected in different ways by a spinal cord injury (SCI). In some instances, the area below the injury is affected, which causes complete paralysis. But if sensation and movement still exist below the injury location to some extent, paralysis is considered incomplete.
On a related note, some people with SCIs may benefit from stem cell treatments, which use undefined cells to trigger regrowth in a way that could reverse paralysis. Some SCI survivors also benefit from electrical implants that help them regain limb movement.
Your spinal cord transmits signals to the nerves that allow you to sweat, which is why people with a severe form of paralysis known as quadriplegia are unable to perspire. They need to be manually cooled down or located in an air-conditioned environment.
A spinal tap (lumbar puncture) is done with a large needle that’s inserted into the spine to remove fluid for testing purposes. A common side effect associated with spinal taps is headaches. One possible explanation is that the headaches are related to the leakage of spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) caused by the puncture.
Learning as much as possible about the spine can help patients with back pain make educated decisions about their treatment. Whether they need a diagnosis for their spine discomfort or they’re looking for spinal fusion alternatives, Santa Monica patients rely on the industry pioneers at The Spine Institute for their unmatched expertise. If you’re having severe or prolonged back or neck pain, call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.