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Spine Surgery Guide

Anatomy of Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a three-dimensional curvature of the spine.

Understanding the fundamental anatomy and function of the spine, therefore, is key to a clearer picture of this treatable condition.

The spine has several special roles in the human body. It protects the spinal cord (which connects nerves to the brain); provides the support needed to walk upright; enables the torso to bend; and supports the head. Viewed from the side, the spine has a natural "S" curve, which should not to be confused with the abnormal curvature of scoliosis.

There are five main sections of the spine, as shown in the illustration. From top to bottom they are the cervical, the thoracic, the lumbar, the sacrum, and the coccyx.
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Sections of the Spine

  • Cervical
    The uppermost part of the spine, the cervical section, is more commonly referred to as the neck. There are seven cervical vertebrae (doughnut-shaped bones) that connect the skull to the rest of the spine. Spongy discs are located between the vertebrae.
  • Thoracic
    The spine's thoracic section begins at the shoulders and extends down to the end of the rib cage. There are 12 vertebrae in the upper back, with shock-absorbing discs between them. Scoliosis commonly affects the thoracic section of the spine.

  • Lumbar
    The lumbar section, or lower back, has five vertebrae. These vertebrae, separated by discs, are the largest discs in the spine. The lumbar section is also a common location for scoliosis to occur.

  • Sacral/Sacrum
    There are five vertebrae that join together to form the sacrum, a wedge-shaped part of the spine that rests at the top of the pelvis.

  • Coccyx
    The coccyx is often referred to as the tailbone. It consists of four vertebrae.

  • Vertebrae
    From top to bottom, the spine has 33 doughnut -shaped bones called vertebrae. Each vertebra is assigned a letter and a number that identifies its location in the spine. For example, the fourth vertebra in the cervical section is the C-4 vertebra, the second vertebra in the lumbar section is the L-2 vertebra, the 11th vertebra in the thoracic section is the T-11 vertebra, and so on.

  • Discs
  • Sandwiched between each pair of vertebrae is a spongy cartilage, or disc. Intervertebral discs, as they are known, act as shock-absorbing cushions.

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This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient.
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