The Spine

The spine is made up of a series of stubby, rounded bones called vertebrae which are joined together to support the trunk. It also serves to protect the nervous tissue as it passes from the brain to the limbs. In order to allow some movement of the trunk, the vertebrae are joined by specialised structures called ‘intervertebral discs’. These disc are made up of two parts; an inner ‘neucleus pulposis’ which is a jelly-like structure; and an outer a ring of fibrous tissue called the ‘annulus fibrosis’ and which looks somewhat like the tyre of a car. Various other ligaments bind the vertebrae together and the movement of the spine is brought about by the numerous muscles which surround it in layers and the muscles of the trunk.

In order to accommodate to the upright posture the human spine has developed a series of curves, if one looks at it from the side, in order to enhance its balance while standing. The cervical and lumbar spine are curved gently forward and the thoracic and sacral parts are curved in a backward direction. When viewed from behind, however, the spine is normally straight. Spinal disease will often cause an alteration to these normal curves.

The spine is subject to a wide variety of conditions which can lead to pain, deformity and, particularly as it carries the nerves of the body, loss of function of the body. It is generally concern for this last aspect that causes individuals suffering from a spinal problem to become very anxious about their condition despite the fact that paraplegia from back problems is uncommon.