Document Type

Handbook, Guide or Manual (Third Edition)

Publication Date (Third Edition)



The spinal cord is a part of a system called the central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of two main structures — the brain and the spinal cord. The spinal cord is delicate tissue protected by spinal bones, which are called vertebrae. The spinal cord sits in a space through the center of the vertebrae called the spinal canal. The vertebrae are stacked one on top of another. The job of the vertebrae is to provide support and flexibility for the body and to protect the spinal cord. Discs separate the vertebrae. Discs are tough fibrous material that contains a thick fluid. The job of the discs is to act as shock absorbers or cushions so that movement throughout the back will not be painful.

The vertebrae are connected to each other with a system of ligaments. These ligaments help the spinal column to remain straight, as well as give it the ability to twist and turn. When a spinal injury has occurred, often times there is damage to the ligaments. It is not uncommon for the vertebrae to be injured and the spinal cord to be fine. However, the spinal cord can be injured with or without injury to the spinal column. There are thirty vertebrae. The spinal column is divided into sections. These sections are similar to the segments of the spinal cord.

These segments are:

• Cervical: 7 vertebrae (neck)

• Thoracic: 12 vertebrae (rib cage)

• Lumbar: 5 vertebrae (mid-back)

• Sacral: 5 vertebrae (lower back) (These bones fuse and become one.)

• Coccyx: 1 vertebrae (“tailbone”)

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