Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Spinal Curvature Anatomy

To better understand scoliosis, it helps to understand the anatomy of 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.

When the bones or ligaments do not develop equally on both side of the spine, the spine becomes abnormally curved.

Bones of the spine:

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

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. 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 vertebrae.

Last Updated: Jul 8, 2009 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Spinal Curvature References
  1. Reamy BV, Slakey JB. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: review and current concepts. Am Fam Physician. 2001 Jul 1;64(1):111-6. [11456428]
  2. Swank S, Lonstein JE, Moe JH, Winter RB, Bradford DS. Surgical treatment of adult scoliosis. A review of two hundred and twenty-two cases. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1981 Feb;63(2):268-87. [6450768]
  3. Wong MS, Liu WC. Critical review on non-operative management of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Prosthet Orthot Int. 2003 Dec;27(3):242-53. [14727706]
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