10 Facts you might not know about your spine

Your spine is the central part of your body. It comprises 33 bones called vertebrae and protects your spinal cord; it also supports the weight of your body so you can stand up, walk and run. In many ways, your spine is the foundation of your body, and it’s essential that you take care of it. 

You will find below ten facts about your spine. If you have any questions about your back pain or spinal health, please don’t hesitate to contact my office at 312.695.7746 (312.695.SPINE). If you enjoyed reading this article, you would enjoy reading my similar article 10 Facts you might not know about your spinal cord.

a human spine

1. Your spine is made up of 33 bones called vertebrae

Your spine is made up of 33 bones called vertebrae. In the neck, there are 7 cervical vertebrae; in the upper back, 12 thoracic vertebrae; in the lower back, 5 lumbar vertebrae. The remaining vertebrae form the sacrum (5 sacral vertebrae), and the coccyx or tail bone (4 coccygeal vertebrae). However, a small proportion of the population might have variations in these numbers.

2. As we age, we end up with 22 vertebrae, and the sacrum and coccyx

As we age, some vertebrae become naturally fused. The five sacral vertebrae fuse into the sacrum, and the four coccygeal vertebrae become the coccyx. 

3. The spine contains over 120 muscles, more than 200 ligaments, and 100 joints

These small muscles and joints give the spine strength and flexibility. 

4. Humans and giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in the neck

You might think that humans have fewer vertebrae in the neck than giraffes, but you’d be wrong! Giraffes have seven cervical bones in their necks as well. Most mammals have seven cervical vertebrae. 

Human and a Giraffe spines painting

Image generated by Dall.E2: An oil painting of a human and giraffe comparing the sizes of their necks.

5. Your spine is more flexible than you think

Your spine can bend in all directions. It’s the most flexible part of your body, capable of rotating, flexing, extending, and side-bending with little or no pain. This flexibility is possible because vertebrae are connected by joints that allow movement and flexibility of your back. These joints consist of discs that act as cushions between each bone segment, facet joints as well as ligaments that hold the joint together.

6. Smoking negatively affects the spine and increases back pain

In addition to causing lung cancer, smoking damages the spine. In brief, nicotine reduces blood flow, slows healing, and diminishes bone strength. Also, if you ever need spine surgery, smoking puts you at a significantly higher risk of surgical complications.

7. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to a healthy back 

Since the spine is your backbone, it supports the weight of your body day in and day out. Every step you take puts biomechanical strain on your spine, and as such, it is very important to maintain a healthy weight to maintain a healthy spine and reduce the chance of developing back pain.

8. Did you know you are taller in the morning and… in space?

Discs contain a jelly-like substance called nucleus pulposus, which sits between a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus (the outside ring) and the cartilaginous endplates (the top and bottom covers). This gelatinous substance collapses slightly during the day as it bears the weight of our bodies, making us slightly shorter by the end of the day. This substance gets rehydrated overnight and expands, making us slightly taller in the morning. Similarly, if we were to go to space in the absence of gravity, we would become taller!

9. Animals can also suffer from scoliosis 

All vertebrates, from snakes to giraffes, can suffer from scoliosis. Take a look at some cases here

10. Eight out of every ten Americans are affected by back pain at some point in their life

Back pain is a common problem, with 8 out of every 10 Americans experiencing back pain at some point. Most cases of lower back pain resolve on their own within a few weeks or months, but sometimes they last longer and become chronic.

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