Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Spondylolisthesis Anatomy

To better understand spinal subluxation, 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: Nov 4, 2008 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Spondylolisthesis References
  1. Daumen-Legre V, Lafforgue P, Champsaur P, Chagnaud C, Pham T, Kasbarian M, Acquaviva PC. Anteroposterior atlantoaxial subluxation in cervical spine osteoarthritis: case reports and review of the literature. J Rheumatol. 1999 Mar;26(3):687-91. [10090183]
  2. Grant GA, Mirza SK, Chapman JR, Winn HR, Newell DW, Jones DT, Grady MS. Risk of early closed reduction in cervical spine subluxation injuries. J Neurosurg. 1999 Jan;90(1 Suppl):13-8. [10413120]
  3. Takasita M, Matsumoto H, Uchinou S, Tsumura H, Torisu T. Atlantoaxial subluxation associated with ossification of posterior longitudinal ligament of the cervical spine. Spine. 2000 Aug 15;25(16):2133-6. [10954646]
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