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Spine Anatomy Part 1 – Vertebrae Anatomy

Understanding spine anatomy is critical in understanding the causes, symptoms and treatment options related to back pain (as well as some hip, shoulder and leg pain). The spine plays several critical roles in the body and is made up of dozens of components including bones called vertebrae. In this article we’ll examine the vertebrae anatomy in detail.

Spine Anatomy Series

  1. Vertebrae Anatomy
  2. Cervical Region
  3. Thoracic Region
  4. Lumbar Region
  5. Sacrum and Coccyx
  6. The Spine as a Whole

The Anatomy of the Spine

The spinal anatomy is complex and consists of many components such as bones, discs, ligaments and nerves. In this series we’ll review the components of the spine and how they work together to help the spine perform its main functions of:

  • supporting our bodies weight
  • providing posture
  • allowing for body movements
  • protecting the spinal cord

Part 1 – Vertebrae Anatomy

The spine is made up of dozens of vertebrae, the bones of the spine. When we are young we have 33 vertebrae. However, as we go through adolescence, some of the vertebrae fuse together to form bones called the sacrum and the coccyx. The remaining 24 vertebrae, sacrum and coccyx together make up the spine in adults.1

Spinal Anatomy

The two main sections of each vertebrae are called the vertebral body and the vertebral arch.

Vertebral Body

The vertebral body (shown by A in the image) is the circular portion of the bone above and below which are intervertebral discs. The vertebral body is more toward the front of your body (or is anterior to the vertebral arch). The vertebral body is the main weight bearing portion of the spine and makes up the majority of the bone mass of each vertebra.

Vertebral Arch

The vertebral arch (labeled C) is the irregular shaped portion of the bone through which the spinal cord (labeled D) runs. The vertebral arch is posterior to the the vertebral body, meaning the arch is toward the back of your body.

Vertebral Arch

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Spinous and Transverse Processes

The three pointed portions of each vertebrae are called processes. The one that points straight back is called the spinous process while the two side ones are called the transverse processes.

Vertebral Foramen

The vertebral foramen is the hollow area of each vertebra through which the spinal cord runs.

Facet Joints

The areas where adjacent vertebra meet (above and below each vertebrae) are called the facet joints. The facet joints are on the left and right sides of the vertebrae. These joints stabilize the spine while allowing it to twist.

See Also: Understanding Facet Joint Injections

Intervertebral Discs

Between each vertebrae are soft regions of cartilage called intervertebral discs. These discs hold the vertebrae together, allow for motion and act as shock absorbers in the spine.

In this article we reviewed the basic anatomy of each vertebrae in the spinal column. In the upcoming weeks we’ll take a look at how these vertebrae work together to make up the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine.


  1. http://www.innerbody.com/image/skel05.html
  2. https://saratogaspine.com/spinal-anatomy/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vertebral_column
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intervertebral_disc
*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery