Human Spine Facts

Consisting of 33 bones, more than 120 muscles, over 200 individual ligaments, and an assortment of nerves and supportive discs, the human spine is designed to perform many important functions with maximum efficiency. It’s easy to take your backbone for granted when everything is working together as expected. Even so, it’s a more complex structure than you might realize. Beverly Hills spine surgeons from The Spine Institute have put together a list of some fun facts to consider as you learn more about your spine.

1. There Are Three Main Parts of the Spine

The lower (lumbar) spine consists of five vertebrae, the middle (thoracic) spine is made up of twelve vertebrae, and seven vertebrae make up the cervical spine (neck).

2. Five Bones of the Spine Fuse Together to Form the Tailbone

Between the ages of 18 and 30, the five bones at the base of the spine fuse together to form the sacrum, a triangular bone in the lower back. This area is known as the coccygeal vertebrae, or the tailbone.

3. The Brain Connects to the Spine to Control Most of the Body’s Basic Functions

The brain stem connects with the upper spine to control thirst, hunger, temperature, breathing, and other essential functions.

4. Humans and Giraffes Have the Same Number of Neck Bones

While it may not seem possible, long-necked giraffes and humans both have seven cervical spine vertebrae.

5. The First Vertebra of the Spine Is Named After a Greek God

The very first cervical vertebra is referred to as the Atlas, also the name of the mythological figure known for carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. This bone is so-named because it supports the weight of the skull.

6. Over a Hundred Joints Allow the Spine to Be Flexible

You have a pair of these small joints, known as facet joints, at each level of your spine.

7. Most Spinal Cord Injuries Are Caused by Car Accidents

The human spine is extremely durable and flexible. In fact, you would be able to form two-thirds of a circle if you tried to bend your spine into a circle. It’s also not easy to completely sever a spinal cord. According to one study, it would take a force equal to a 500-pound car smashing into a wall at 30 mph to sever the spinal cord.

8. Most of the Population Will Experience Back Pain at One Time or Another

According to most estimates, 80 to 90 percent of the population will experience back pain at some point. Back pain is also the leading cause of worldwide disability, the most common reason people file for workers’ compensation in the United States, and the main reason people visit their doctor.

9. The Spine Has a “Memory”

Following an injury, neurons in your spine can carry pain signals more easily to your brain. Consequently, you are more sensitive to pain, which is why discomfort from spine-related injuries sometimes lingers. This is also why it’s important to take good care of your spine to minimize injuries to tissues, bones, discs, joints, and nerves.

10. Most of the Spine’s Length Comes from Cartilage

This rubbery substance that separates vertebral discs accounts for more than a fourth of the spine’s length. The cartilage’s ability to expand and contract is what causes astronauts returning from space to grow up to 3 percent taller. It’s also why people lose some height as they age.

The human spine is fairly durable and flexible. However, there are times when it demands attention. Fortunately, most spine-related pain is a temporary inconvenience. Should you experience any persistent or worsening discomfort, it’s time to get some input from your doctor.

You may also want to meet with a spinal surgeon if you think you might need surgery. At The Spine Institute, we specialize in a wide variety of procedures, including traditional fusion surgery, artificial disc replacement, and spinal cord stimulation. Beverly Hills patients who are seeking relief for their pain should call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.