Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Vertebral Compression Fracture Anatomy

To better understand vertebral compression fracture, it helps to understand the anatomy of the spinal column.

The spine is an upright row of stacked bones, called the vertebral column. Individual bones of the spine are called vertebra. The vertebral column starts under the skull and continues to the buttocks.

The spinal column is divided into three main parts:

  • Cervical spine or neck
  • Thoracic spine or chest
  • Lumbar spine or lower back

In between the vertebrae are the disks. The disks act as rubber pads in between each vertebrae of the spine. Each disk attaches to the bottom of the vertebra above it, and to the top of the vertebrae below it. Strong ligaments and muscles hold the vertebral column together. These structures support, surround, and protect the spinal cord.

Anatomy examples:
  • The spinal divisions
  • The vertebral disks
  • Spinal nerves exiting the spinal column in the neck
  • Spinal nerves exiting the spinal column in the lower back
  • The spinal cord and nerve roots
  • The lumbar spine ends in the sacrum

Inside the spinal column is a tube for the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a thick bundle of nerves that starts at the bottom of the brain. It carries information back and forth between the body and the brain.

Spinal Cord Anatomy
  • Bones of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine
  • Front view of the spine and spinal cord
  • Cross sectional view
  • The conus medullaris is the end of the spinal cord in the back.
  • The spinal cord ends in the lumbar spine at the level of L1 to L2
  • The cauda equina is a bundle of nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord.
    • Nerves of the cauda equina supply the bladder, rectum, perineum, and legs.

Last Updated: Jan 7, 2011 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Vertebral Compression Fracture References
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