What is Spine?
The spine in our body is the central support structure. It keeps us upright/straight and helps in connecting the different parts of our skeleton to each other such as our head, shoulders, chest, pelvis,arms and legs. The spine is made up of a chain of bones and its elastic ligaments and spinal disks make it flexible. Spine’s length depends on the height of the person.The average length of the spine is 71 cm in men and that of women is 61 cm. Spine performs many functions such as it carries the weight of head, torso and arms, and allows the body to move in every direction. Some parts of the spine are more flexible than others. The cervical spine (neck area) is the most flexible part. The bones that are responsible for making up the spine protect the spinal cord, which runs through the spinal canal.
Parts of Spine
A healthy spine is of S shape which has three natural curves. These curves protect the spine from injury. Spine is made up of different parts:
- Vertebrae: It has 33 stacked vertebrae (small bones) which form the spinal canal. The spinal canal is a tunnel that protects the spinal cord and nerves from injury.
- Facet Joints: These spinal joints have cartilage which allows vertebrae to slide against each other.
- Intervertebral disks: These flat, round cushions are available between the vertebrae and act as the spine’s shock absorbers.
- Spinal Cord and Nerves: It is a column of nerves which travels through the spinal canal.
- Soft Tissues: The ligaments help in connecting the vertebrae to hold the spine in its position. Tendons help in connecting the muscles to bone and aid movement.
Spine segment is made up of 33 vertebrae. There are 5 distinct spine segments. Starting from the neck and going down toward your buttocks.
- Cervical (neck): The uppermost part of the spine has seven vertebrae (C1 to C7). These neck vertebrae allow to turn, tilt and nod your head easily. The cervical spine makes a lordotic curve which is of C-shape.
- Thoracic (middle back): The chest part of the spine has 12 vertebrae from (T1 to T12). Ribs are attached to the thoracic spine.
- Lumbar (lower back): Five vertebrae starting from L1 to L5 make up the lower part of the spine. The lumbar spine supports the upper parts of the spine.
- Sacrum: This is a triangle-shaped bone connected to the hips. The five sacral vertebrae starting from S1 to S5 fuse as a baby develops in the womb, which means that they don’t move.
- Coccyx (tailbone): This small piece of bone is made up of four fused vertebrae which is found at the bottom of the spine. Pelvic floor muscles and ligaments are attached to the coccyx.
Conditions affecting the Spine
There are many reasons by which our spine gets affected.
- Arthritic conditions like ankylosing spondylitis (AS).
- Back strains and sprains.
- Birth defects such as spina bifida.
- Bone spurs
- Curvatures of the spine (scoliosis and kyphosis).
- Neuromuscular diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
- Nerve injuries, including spinal stenosis.
- Osteoporosis (weak bones).
- Spinal cord injuries along with spinal fractures, herniated disks and paralysis.
- Spine tumors and cancer.
- Spine infections like meningitis and osteomyelitis.
When to visit the Doctor?
One should consult a health expert when experiencing the following:
- Suffering from Back pain with fever.
- Suffering from Bowel or bladder control issues.
- Having Leg weakness or pain that moves from your back down your legs.
- Facing Pain that worsens, which causes nausea or sleeplessness or interferes with daily activities.
How to keep your spine healthy?
Strong back muscles can help you in protecting the spine and prevent back problems. Do the back-strengthening and stretching exercises for at least twice a week.
- Exercises like planks strengthen the core to give your spine support.
- Bend your knees and keep your back straight when lifting items to avoid spine injury.
- Lose weight, if required.
- Maintain good posture to keep your spine healthy.