Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Narrowed Spinal Canal Anatomy

To better understand spinal stenosis, it helps to understand the anatomy of the spine and spinal cord.

The back includes the spine and the structures that surround the spine. 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. This tube is called the spinal canal. 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 vertebrae.

Anatomy of the spinal cord:
  • Back, side view of the spinal cord inside the spine
  • Front view of the spine and spinal cord

Last Updated: Jul 10, 2009 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Narrowed Spinal Canal References
  1. Sengupta DK, Herkowitz HN. Lumbar spinal stenosis. Treatment strategies and indications for surgery. Orthop Clin North Am. 2003 Apr;34(2):281-95. [12914268]
  2. Snyder DL, Doggett D, Turkelson C. Treatment of degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis. Am Fam Physician. 2004 Aug 1;70(3):517-20. [15317438]
  3. Thomas SA. Spinal stenosis: history and physical examination. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2003 Feb;14(1):29-39. [12622480]
  4. Yuan PS, Booth RE Jr, Albert TJ. Nonsurgical and surgical management of lumbar spinal stenosis. Instr Course Lect. 2005;54:303-12. [15948458]
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