20 Facts About the Spine

The spinal column – or backbone – is instrumental to the strength, support, flexibility and range of movement our bodies possess. It’s a complicated structure, with many interconnected and interdependent components. Here are 20 facts about the spine, some of which you may find surprising.

1. When we’re born, our spines consist of 33 individual vertebrae.
2. As we age, some of these vertebrae fuse together. The five vertebrae composing our sacrum become one bone and the coccygeal vertebrae – which can vary from three to five bones – fuse together as one. Thus, the tailbone is formed.
3. You have twelve vertebrae in your thoracic area – the middle portion of the back.
4. You have five vertebrae in your lumbar spine area – the lower back.
5. And the cervical area, or the neck, is comprised of seven individual vertebrae.
6. Did you know that both humans and long-necked giraffes have seven cervical vertebrae? Impressive given the giraffe’s height; however, this demonstrates well the flexibility and versatility of the spinal structure.
7. Another interesting fact about the cervical vertebrae is they’re sometimes referred to as Atlas, referencing the Greek mythological Atlas who was burdened with carrying the world on top of his shoulders (much like the neck supports and carries the weight of the head.)
8. Over 120 muscles are contained in the spine.
9. The spinal column includes approximately 220 individual ligaments.
10. These ligaments keep the vertebrae interconnected which is paramount to keeping the spine, as well as the nerves it’s protecting within the spinal cord, stable.
11. Over 100 joints allow for the spine’s extreme flexibility and range of movement.
12. Did you know, if bent into a circle, nearly two thirds of the shape could be created due to the intricate and flexible formation of the spine?
13. Over one fourth of the spine’s total length is created from cartilage, the sponge-like substance that separates one vertebral disc from the next.
14. Cartilage can expand and contract. Interestingly, if gravity is removed (in space travel, for example) a person can return to earth taller than when he or she left. Oppositely, gravity’s pull on our bodies over the years shrinks cartilage, making us decrease in height as we age.
15. Back pain is among the most common reason for a physician visit – in fact, approximately 80% of Americans will suffer from this condition at some point during their lives.
16. Back pain in also a leading cause behind disability claims in the United States.
17. Most back pain, approximately 80%, doesn’t require medical treatment and typically subsides in one to two months. (If, however, back pain is persistent or acute, it’s recommended you seek medical attention.)
18. The most common cause of back pain and spinal cord trauma in America is car accidents.
19. Backbones are surprisingly strong, however, and they can sustain the weight and pressure of hundreds of kilograms.
20. The spine has an excellent memory, and as such, it’s recommended that you take care to provide it with proper support from a young age. Controlling your posture, engaging in strengthening the back muscles, as well as stretching are all beneficial to the long-term health of your spine.

The spine is truly fascinating, but while its complexity interests us, it’s also one reason so many different spinal conditions exist. If you’re suffering from back pain beyond occasional stiffness and muscle stress, it’s recommended you consult your physician to see if a visit to a spinal specialist, like the top Atlanta neurosurgeon here at Georgia Spine & Neurosurgery Center, is necessary.