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Vertebral column

Learning objectives

This study unit will help you to:

  1. Identify the main regions of the vertebral column.
  2. Understand the distinguishing features of each region.
  3. Describe the main components and bony landmarks of a typical vertebra.
  4. Learn about the main functions and movements of the vertebral column.

Watch video

The vertebral column (spine) is a long, curved bony structure located along the vertical axis of the body. It is composed of 33-35 vertebrae, 24 of which are separated by intervertebral discs. The spine can be divided into 5 different regions according to the distinct characteristics of the vertebrae in each region. These include the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal regions. Despite having specific characteristics according to the body region they belong to, all vertebrae share the same general features.

A typical vertebra has an anterior weight-bearing vertebral body, a posterior vertebral arch extended by several processes, and a central vertebral foramen. The vertebral column has a number of important functions in the human body, such as support and stabilization of the skeleton, providing an attachment site for numerous muscles and enabling a series of movements of the trunk. Additionally, the vertebral column envelopes the spinal cord and protects it from mechanical injury.

The following video tutorial will provide you with a brief overview of the vertebral column, its structure and functions.

Take a quiz

Now that you have watched the video about the vertebral column, you can test your knowledge on the subject by taking the quiz below.

Do you want to make your own personalized quiz by picking your favorite topics and adjusting the difficulty level? You can do it by clicking on our custom quiz!

Download the following PDF worksheets and learn the parts of the vertebral column.


Browse atlas

You can observe the features of the spine and vertebrae in more detail in our image galleries below. This first gallery focuses on the spine as a whole.

While this second gallery takes a closer look at the features of a typical vertebra.


Key points about the vertebral column
Main regions Cervical spine (7)
Thoracic spine (12)
Lumbar spine (5)
Sacrum (5)
Coccyx (3-5)
Curvatures Cervical lordosis (C2-T2)
Thoracic kyphosis (T2-T12)
Lumbar lordosis (T12 - sacrovertebral angle)
Sacral kyphosis (sacrovertebral articulation - coccyx)
Movements Flexion, extension, lateral flexion, rotation (torsion)
Functions Movement, stabilization and support of the trunk; protection of the spinal cord
Key points about the structure of a typical vertebra
Main components Vertebral body
Vertebral arch
Vertebral foramen
Bony landmarks of vertebral arch Pedicles
Vertebral processes: Spinous process, transverse processes, superior articular processes (with superior articular facets) and inferior articular processes (with inferior articular facets)

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