How many vertebrae is the human vertebral column made of?

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The spinal column is at the heart of our anatomy. Fascinating in its complexity, it plays a crucial role. Not only does it maintain our posture, it also protects the spinal cord, essential for transmitting nerve messages between the brain and the rest of the body. Made up of multiple vertebrae, the spine is a natural feat that requires care and attention.

This guide will plunge you into the world of the vertebrae that make up our spine, and reveal the importance of each segment. Whether you’re looking to expand your knowledge or are a professional in search of more detailed information, you’ll find essential information on the structure of our spine here. Get ready to discover its indispensable role in maintaining our well-being.

General structure of the spine

The architectural masterpiece of the human body, the spinal column, also known as the rachis, plays essential roles while retaining its complexity. Made up of some 33 vertebrae aligned from the skull to the pelvis, it is the body’s main support.

Each vertebra, a bone in its own right, articulates to create the vertebral canal. This tunnel protects the spinal cord. The vertebrae are divided into specific regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal, with distinct functions.

The flexibility of the spine is enhanced by the intervertebral discs. These cushions facilitate flexion, extension, rotation and lateralization, while absorbing everyday shocks.

The different parts of the spine

The cervical spine, made up of 7 vertebrae, gives the head great freedom of movement. The thoracic spine, with its 12 vertebrae, anchors the ribs and protects the vital organs.

The lumbar spine, with its 5 full vertebrae, supports most of the body’s weight and ensures trunk mobility. The sacrum and coccyx, vestiges of evolution, support the pelvis.

The vertebrae are connected by ligaments and muscles, ensuring stability and mobility. The spinous and transverse processes anchor the muscles and play an essential role in body movement.

The functions of the spine

Carrying the weight of the head, the spine distributes loads from the trunk to the pelvis, facilitating many movements. Its segmented structure and natural curves are essential to this function.

It is also the shield of the spinal cord, an essential component of the nervous system. The vertebral foramina allow nerves to connect between the brain and the body.

A healthy spine is essential for mobility, posture and neurological protection. Conditions such as herniated discs, scoliosis or low back pain require medical management to preserve quality of life.

The spinal column: a detailed overview

The complex and dynamic human spine is made up of a variety of segments essential for support and mobility. We’ll look at the number and characteristics of the vertebrae in each section, from the cervical spine to the coccyx.

Cervical spine

Located at the top of the spine, the cervical spine extends from the skull to the thorax. It comprises seven vertebrae (C1 to C7), remarkable for their great mobility, which facilitates movements of the head and neck. In particular, the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) support and rotate the head.

Although they are the smallest vertebrae, they play an essential role in protecting the spinal cord and supporting the neck. They have a transverse foramen for the passage of the vertebral artery, necessary for brain perfusion.

Common cervical pathologies include herniated discs, osteoarthritis and trauma. Knowledge of the anatomy of this region is essential to its management.

Thoracic spine

The thoracic or dorsal spine, at the center of the spinal column, comprises twelve vertebrae (T1 to T12). These vertebrae articulate with the ribs, forming the rib cage that protects the heart and lungs. Their curvature, known as kyphosis, influences body posture.

Less mobile than the cervical vertebrae due to their protective role, these vertebrae incorporate facets for costo-vertebral connections, giving them a certain flexibility during breathing.

Disorders of this region can lead to back pain and restricted movement, such as compression fractures and degenerative diseases.

Lumbar spine

At the bottom of the spine is the lumbar spine, made up of five strong vertebrae (L1 to L5). They support the body’s weight and provide the flexibility needed to flex and extend the trunk.

These are the largest vertebrae, designed to withstand the stresses of daily activity. The intervertebral discs, which act as shock absorbers, facilitate movement between them.

Lumbar disorders, frequent sources of pain and disability, include herniated discs, spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis, which often require medical or surgical intervention.

Sacrum and coccyx

The sacrum, a triangular bone at the base of the spine, results from the fusion of five sacral vertebrae. It integrates with the pelvis via the iliac bones, playing a crucial role in the transmission of forces to the lower limbs.

As for the coccyx, a remnant of an ancestral tail, it is made up of three to five fused coccygeal vertebrae and serves as an anchoring point for various ligaments and muscles of the pelvic floor.

Although painful, damage to the sacrum and coccyx disrupts pelvic support. Fractures, dislocations and coccygeal pain are typical examples.

Variability and special features

Each human spine is unique, offering a similar basic structure but with notable variations from one individual to another. These differences, influenced by genetic, environmental and evolutionary factors, are essential for health professionals and individuals wishing to improve the well-being of their spine to understand.

Variability can be observed in the number of vertebrae, their shape and size, and the curvature of the spine. These variations influence posture, mobility and susceptibility to injury. Some people may have an extra lumbar vertebra, which can lead to back pain or nerve complications.

Evolution has also shaped our spine, favoring adaptation to bipedalism. These modifications have had an impact on its current structure, and are at the root of many of the variations seen today.

Individual and evolutionary differences

Spinal columns vary from one individual to another, with differences affecting spinal function and health. The shape and size of the vertebrae influence the distribution and management of bodily loads.

Evolutionary factors have shaped our anatomy to support an upright position, modifying vertebral curvature and weight distribution. These adaptations are essential for the prevention and treatment of spinal disorders, as they influence injury susceptibility and rehabilitation strategies.

Spinal flexibility: between stability and mobility

The spine maintains a balance between flexibility, necessary for a wide range of movement, and stability, which protects vital structures such as the spinal cord. Intervertebral discs and joints ensure this flexibility, allowing flexion, extension, rotation and lateralization.

However, excessive flexibility can threaten this stability, increasing the risk of injury. Thus, ligaments and muscles contribute to sufficient stability, enabling safe, controlled movement.

It is essential for healthcare professionals to measure this balance in order to propose personalized treatments, precisely tailored to the needs of each individual patient.

Common anomalies and variations

Common spinal anomalies and variations, such as scoliosis, kyphosis and lordosis, are common. These conditions may be innate or develop as a result of posture, movement or injury. Without proper management, they can limit mobility and cause pain.

Recognizing and treating these variations is fundamental for healthcare professionals when assessing and treating patients, as a specific therapeutic approach is often required to optimize spinal function and quality of life.

The spinal column is a central pillar of our body, providing protection and flexibility. Made up of around 33 vertebrae, it deserves special attention to keep it in good condition.

To keep it in good health, we recommend a few simple gestures:

  • Maintain ideal posture;
  • Exercise regularly;
  • Consult a specialist if in doubt.

Taking care of your spine is an investment in your overall well-being. You’ll be well rewarded.


De combien de vertèbres la colonne vertébrale humaine est-elle composée ?

How many vertebrae is the human vertebral column made of?


The spinal column supports the head and transmits the body's weight to the hip joints. It is made up of 33 vertebrae.