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Spinal Anatomy Animation

Vertebrae, Intervertebral Discs, and Spinal Curves

In this animation, you will learn about spinal anatomy—and understanding the anatomy of your spine can help you better understand your back pain or neck pain.  See how your spine works in this 2-minute video that shows you the vertebrae, joints, and intervertebral discs.

Here’s what you’ll learn in this animation:

  • Vertebrae:  The spine is made up of 33 bones; these are the vertebrae.  They are stacked on top of each other, and the vertebrae in your neck are smaller than the ones in your low back.  This gradual increase in size allows the spine to better carry weight and absorb shock from your movements (eg, walking).
  • Facet Joints:  Each vertebra has 2 pairs of facet joints.  These hinge-like structures help support the spine and facilitate movement.  Because of the facet joints, you can bend forwards and backwards, as well as twist from side to side.
  • Ligaments:  These soft tissues connect the vertebrae and help stabilize the spine.  Some important ligaments in your spine are the posterior longitudinal ligament (supports the back—the posterior—of your spine), the anterior longitudinal ligament (supports the front of your spine—the anterior), and the ligamentum flavum.
  • Intervertebal Discs:  As the name indicates, these discs are in between your vertebrae.  The intervertebral discs help cushion your movements and absorb shock.

They are composed of 2 sections.  The harder outer layer is called the annulus fibrosus; the inner, gel-like layer is the nucleus pulposus.

  • Spine Regions:  There are 5 regions of the spine—cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper back), lumbar spine (low back), sacrum, and the coccyx (tailbone).
  • Spinal Cord:  One purpose of your spine is to protect your spinal cord, which descends from the brain in the spinal canal.  Nerves branch off it and then run to various parts of your body, sending and receiving messages about movement, sensation, and function. 
  • Spinal Curves:  As a way to better support your weight and facilitate movement, the spine curves.  When you look at the spine from the side, these curves should be present.

At the neck, your spine curves forwards; that is a lordotic curve.  At your upper back, it curves back; that is a kyphotic curve.

Your low back has a lordotic curve, and your sacrum has a kyphotic curve.

You can see these curves in this image:

Spine Drawing: Spinal Regions and Spinal Curves

To learn more about spinal anatomy after watching this video, visit the SpineUniverse Spinal Anatomy Center.  There, you’ll find spine expert-written and reviewed articles that give straightforward explanations of spinal anatomy.

Updated on: 09/27/12
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