The Anatomy of Your Back

Dr. Gil Center for Back, Neck, and Chronic Pain Relief


There are 33 vertebrae, which are bones, stacked one on top of the other to make up the spinal column. This column, which is also known as the vertebral column, goes throughout your body from the base of your skull to your tailbone in the pelvis. These 33 vertebrae are not all exact replicas of each other; instead, they come in different sizes from the small cervical vertebrae in the neck to the large vertebrae in the lower back.



The vertebrae, along with the help of discs between the vertebrae and the facet joints, have an important purpose in the body: they bear the weight of the body and keep it stable. The spine holds and distributes the weight of the upper body, as well as weight from movement like lifting an object. In its natural, best position, the spine curves, which has the purpose of giving flexibility and resistance to aid the weight distribution.


Parts of the Spinal Column

There are different parts of the spinal column. These include:

  • The Upper Cervical Region
  • The Lower Cervical Region
  • Thoracic Vertebrae
  • Lumbar Vertebrae


The Upper Cervical Region

This region includes two parts: C1 and C2. C1 is an abbreviated term for the Atlas, which is the first vertebra in the neck. The purpose of this vertebra is to hold up the skull. It looks different from the other vertebrae, as it looks like a bone ring with two lateral masses that come together in the front and the back by the anterior and posterior arches.

C2 is the second vertebra, which is also called the Axis. Another term for it is “dens”, which means “tooth” in Latin. It is named this because it looks like a blunt tooth. It is shaped and situated to give the atlas vertebra and the head a place to pivot around.

The Occipital Bone is a flat bone on the back of the head.


The Lower Cervical Region

This region includes the lower C3 through C7 vertebrae.


Thoracic Vertebrae

The thoracic vertebrae are in the upper and mid back and include T1 through T12 vertebrae, which become larger as they progress. These vertebrae include spinuous processes, pedicles and neural passageways called foramen.

These vertebrae, except for T11 and T12, are attached to the rib cage. Since most of the vertebrae in this section are attached to the rib cage and because of the long spinuous processes, this part of the spine has limited movement.


Lumbar Vertebrae

This section of the spine is found in the lower back and includes vertebrae L1 through L5. Like the thoracic section, these vertebrae increase in size as they go along. This section of the spine is responsible for the bulk of the body’s weight. This section also has spinuous processes, pedicles and foramen, although they are a bit different in shape and size than in the thoracic area.