Your spinal column, also known as your vertebral column, is a critical part of your anatomy. It not only houses and protects your spinal cord itself, it also provides the necessary support for the structure of your torso and pelvis as well as attachments for muscles and tendons.
In anatomy, the vertebral column is broken down into sections for reference: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum, and coccyx. Each section consists of a specific number of vertebra. The cervical part of the spine, or the neck, has 7 vertebrae. The thoracic region contains 12 vertebrae, and the lumbar has 5 vertebrae. The 5 vertebrae of the sacrum and 4 coccyx vertebrae are fused. Altogether there are 33 vertebrae in a healthy spine, but only 24 are mobile. Each vertebra is cushioned between with tissue called a disc. Discs act as shock absorbers and prevent the vertebrae from hitting one another. The spine has 3 natural curves, which when viewed from the side look like a lazy "S".
Let's look at the cervical spine. If we start at the top, the first cervical, or neck, vertebra is referred to as the atlas, or C1 (C for cervical). C1 holds the globe of the skull. C2, the next vertebra down, is known as the axis. C1 and C2 vertebrae allow for nodding and pivoting of the head as well as protection of the brain stem.
Many nerves branch from the spinal cord. The nerves branching in the cervical area are responsible for face, head, and neck movement and sensation, as well as the shoulders, arms, and the upper part of the chest. The brain stem at the base of the skull is responsible for controlling breathing and heartbeat.
Problems with cervical vertebral misalignment can cause problems like headaches, weakness in the arms and hands, tingling, and numbness, just to name a few. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your chiropractor can perform an x-ray of your cervical spine area to locate problem areas. Talk to your chiropractor today about steps you can take to prevent future problems with your cervical spine. Be sure to check back next month for The Spine: Part Two!