In this two-part series, I will discuss the nature of the spine and the types of injuries that it can sustain in an accident.
One of the most frequent injuries sustained by people hurt in a motor vehicle accident is to the spine. To better understand the nature of spinal cord injuries, I will first explain its anatomy. It’s really quite fantastic.
The regions of the spinal column include the neck (cervical spine), mid-back (thoracic spine), the lower back (lumbar spine), and the lower, lower back (the sacrum and coccyx). Injuries can range from minor and painless to catastrophic and agonizing.
The regions of the spine
There are 33 bones or vertebrae that make up the spine that are held together by muscles and ligaments. Divided into regions, each one of the vertebra is numbered so that medical professionals can discuss a specific area.
The cervical spine: These bones (vertebrae) are numbered C1-C7. Giraffes have 7 and owls have 14. These 7 vertebrae enable the body to support the weight of the head and allow us to turn our neck with maximum range of motion. (An owl’s 14 vertebrae are what enable it to turn its head 270˚.)
The thoracic spine: The mid-back contains twelve vertebrae (T1-T12). It holds our ribs in place and protects our vital organs.
The lumbar spine: This part of our back serves to carry the weight of our upper body and has five vertebrae (L1-L5). Because they have to hold more weight than the other parts of our spine, they are much larger.
The sacrum and coccyx: Hip bones are connected at the sacrum and the coccyx bones are fused together to form the tailbone.
Sacrum and Coccyx— The sacrum connects the spine to the hip bones. The coccyx bones are fused together to form the tailbone.
The discs of the spine
Each vertebra is separated by a ringed bony disc (aka intervertebral disc or spinal disc). Discs serve to cushion the effects of activity or non-activity in our everyday life and prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against each other.
The composition of the disc is important to understand when we begin talking about spinal injuries.
- The outer part of the disc is the annulus fibrosus, shaped like ring and composed of fibrous bands, like the treads on a tire. These bands are attached to vertebra above and below them.
- The center of the disc is called the nucleus pulposus and is composed of a jelly-like material that fills up the space within the disc.
These two parts of the disc work to protect the body and itself. As the outer part attaches to the vertebrae, the jelly-like center pushes up. They act as shock absorbers, forming a tight, spring-like action. When in perfect condition, they allow just the right give and resistance.
The vertebral arch and spinal cord
There are protrusions on the back of each vertebra that form the hollow vertebral arch. This hollow arch is home to the spinal cord (along with fats, ligaments and blood vessels). Communicating directly with the brain, the spinal cord is composed of a dense group of nerves that is responsible for all of the movements and the many functions your body is capable of producing. It is the area of the body that serves as the main highway between your brain and your muscles.
If you have a spinal cord injury, it can affect you mildly or catastrophically. This is why I tell my clients, if they are suffering from neck and/or back pain after an accident, to get immediate medical attention.
In Part 2 of this series on understanding the spine, I will go into more detail as to the types of injuries that can occur to this most amazing part of our anatomy.
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Photo courtesy of OpenStax College/ Illustration from Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site. http://cnx.org/content/col11496/1.6/, Jun 19, 2013. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.