The human spine is a complex column of bony vertebral bodies of varying sizes and shapes extending from the base of the skull to the tailbone. Between these vertebral bodies lie intervertebral discs made of collagen (a soft material similar in consistency to the nose). These discs act as shock absorbers, cradling the bony portions of the spine and dissipating forces through it while allowing for range of motion where the individual bones join each other.
The spine itself is divided into several segments. The cervical spine consists of the bones in the neck. Because of the great degree of flexibility here, the occurrence of arthritic conditions and disc disease is quite high. The thoracic spine begins where the ribs insert into the vertebral bodies and ends at the bottom of the rib cage. The lumbar spine is commonly known as the "low back" and consists of 5 or 6 vertebral bodies. The sacrum comprises the fused bones that attach to the bones of the hip. The final segment, the coccyx, is commonly known as the tailbone. The sacrum and coccyx usually contain no disc material.
Disorders of the spine can occur in any of its elements. Most commonly, arthritis affects the bony joints in the cervical and lumbar spines, and bony or ligamentous overgrowth can cause a condition known as stenosis in which the nerves are compressed. Discs can also herniate or be pushed into abnormal locations, causing either back or nerve pain. Other disorders, including tumors and infections, can also affect the spine nearly anywhere.
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