Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Back Pain with Radiculopathy Anatomy

To better understand back pain with radiculopathy, it helps to understand the anatomy of the spinal column.

The spine includes the neck, upper and lower back. The spine is an upright row of stacked bones, called the vertebral column. Individual bones of the spine are called vertebrae. The vertebral column starts under the skull and continues to the buttocks.

Bones of the spine:

  • Bones of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine
  • Lower spine

The front of each vertebra is a round, solid cylinder of bone. Between each pair of vertebrae, a disk attaches to the bottom of the vertebra above it, and to the top of the vertebrae below it. The discs act as rubber cushions between the vertebrae. In addition, strong ligaments and muscles hold the vertebral column together. All of these structures support, surround, and protect the spinal cord.

Anatomy of the vertebrae, disks and muscles:
  • The vertebral disks
  • View of disks and ligaments
  • Muscles of the back

The back of each vertebra is an open ring of bone. Because the vertebrae are stacked on top of one another, the open rings form a tube that surrounds the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a thick bundle of nerves that starts at the bottom of the brain and continues down the spine. The spinal cord carries messages between the body and the brain. Nerves branch off of the spinal cord between each of vertebrae.

Anatomy of the disks, nerves, and spinal cord:
  • Disks and nerves
  • Spinal cord

Last Updated: Nov 12, 2008 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Back Pain with Radiculopathy References
  1. Barrett PH, Beck A, Schmid K, Fireman B, Brown JB. Treatment decisions about lumbar herniated disk in a shared decision-making program. Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 2002 May;28(5):211-9. [12053454]
  2. Humphreys SC, Eck JC. Clinical evaluation and treatment options for herniated lumbar disc. Am Fam Physician. 1999 Feb 1;59(3):575-82, 587-8. [10029785]
  3. Ito T, Takano Y, Yuasa N. Types of lumbar herniated disc and clinical course. Spine. 2001 Mar 15;26(6):648-51. [11246377]
  4. Spencer DL. The anatomical basis of sciatica secondary to herniated lumbar disc: a review. Neurol Res. 1999;21 Suppl 1:S33-6. [10214569]
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