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Anatomy and Terminology of the Spine

As a privately practicing neurosurgeon and owner of Cascade Neurosurgical Associates, Dr. Michael Thomas treats numerous conditions of the brain and spine. Focused particularly on minimally invasive spinal procedures, neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Thomas draws on an in-depth knowledge of vertebral anatomy.

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Anatomy and Terminology of the Spine

  1. 1. Anatomy and Terminology of the Spine Dr. Michael Thomas, Neurosurgeon
  2. 2. Introduction  As a privately practicing neurosurgeon and owner of Cascade Neurosurgical Associates, Dr. Michael Thomas treats numerous conditions of the brain and spine. Focused particularly on minimally invasive spinal procedures, neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Thomas draws on an in-depth knowledge of vertebral anatomy. In discussing and reporting on the spine, physicians and care professionals use terminology that refers to the four sections of the spine and the individual vertebrae contained within each section. The top region, known as the cervical (C) spine, contains seven of the 33 bones of the spine. The upper cervical spine contains only two bones, known as the C1 and C2 vertebrae, the upper of which supports the skull and the lower of which allows the head to rotate on its axis. The rest of the cervical vertebrae, known as C3 through C7, make up the lower cervical spine. Below the cervical spine lie the thoracic vertebrae, clinically termed T1 through T12. Each thoracic vertebra is slightly larger than the one above it. Most possess a similar anatomy that allow for connections with the ribs, though the ribs at T11 and T12 do not connect and are thus termed “floating” ribs.
  3. 3. the Spine  The lumbar vertebrae, L1 through L5, are both larger and more flexible than those in the thoracic region. The vertebrae in this area have a high degree of motility and bear the weight of the body, which in turn means that they are more susceptible to damage. They are particularly prone to nerve root compression, despite larger neural passageways. The lowest region of the spine, known as the sacrum, consists of five fused segments of bone. This is the only area of the spine in which bones are not separated by intervertebral discs. Physicians refer to these according to the bones on either side, which means that they carry names such as C3-C4 or C5-T1. Understanding these terms can help patients to better comprehend descriptions of spinal disorders or injuries. However, it is important to remember that only a physician can competently diagnose these problems and develop treatment plans.

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