Anatomy of the spine

The Spinal Column
By Asiah Ahmed

The spine is made up of 24 vertebrae, (7 in the neck, 12 in the mid back and 5 in the low back). They are separated by discs at each level forming intervertebral joints. These intervertebral joints join together to form the spinal column as shown below.

The function of the spinal column is to keep us in an upright position and each segment of the spine (the vertebra and disc) allows us to carry out different movements safely and effectively.

The disc is an important structure in our spine. It has a stronger outer layer called the annulus fibrosis, which is strong due to its arrangement of fibres, and a relatively soft inner layer called the nucleus pulposus . The function of the disc is to support the vertebra and allow any excess forces through movement to be dissipated evenly, preventing injury.

The intervertebral joints rely upon smaller joints formed by the two consecutive vertebrae called facet joints as shown below. These facet joints allow movement to be controlled at each intervertebral joint and they also support the vertebra and disc by dissipating energy from movement.

Another structure that is important is the spinal nerve that emerges from each level. These spinal nerves exit the spinal column on the left and the right and innervate the relevant part of the body. These spinal nerves are responsible for muscle function, sensation of the skin and function of the organs.

The Spinal Column

What can go wrong and how can osteopathy help?

The spine is crucial to our everyday functions such as walking, running, picking something up, getting dressed etc.

One of the most common issues that occurs with the spine is degenerative change (wear and tear). This can occur with any of the joints in the spine (intervertebral joint, facet joint etc). Some of the risk factors include trauma, genetics, arthritic changes and normal wear and tear.

The joints are not the only parts that are affected, sometimes the nerves can also be affected which can causes symptoms of weakness, tingling or numbness in the affected area, often referred to as ‘sciatica’. This can occur if the adjacent joint is arthritic or if one of joints is irritated, causing a pinching of the nerve.

Osteopathy can help by preserving range of motion in the affected joint and by improving muscular health in the back and adjacent areas with manual therapy and by prescribing exercises, to help strengthen the joint to reduce risk of further injury. In addition, your osteopath will look at other lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep and physical activity, and offer advice on best management of your symptoms and how to improve overall health.

If you’d like to speak to a member of our team, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can call us on 0208 088 0614, alternatively you can book a FREE consultation at

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