The anatomy of the vertebral column and spinal cord

The vertebral column consists of 30 vertebrae: seven cervical, 12 thoracic, five lumbar, five sacral (fused), and the coccygeal bone. With the exception of the first two cervical and the sacral vertebrae, all the bony elements of the spinal column articulate by intervertebral disks and posterolateral joints. Capsules and strong, yet elastic, ligaments with various points of origin and termination stabilize the spine in a fashion that provides both stability and flexibility. The vertebral column serves as a protective cavity for the spinal cord, which represents the caudal continuation of the brainstem. The spinal cord is suspended by means of a series of nerve roots, dentate ligaments, and three meninges to cover the cord and form the dural cavity which is filled with cerebrospinal fluid. The dura mater is an inelastic fibrous membrane which forms the dural sac. The epidural space (i.e. the space between the vertebral column and the spinal dura) contains fat, ligaments, small arteries, and venous plexus which supply and drain spinal cord tissue. The arachnoid membrane follows the inner layer of the dura and forms the subarachnoid space within which is the cerebrospinal fluid. The pia mater is directly applied to the surface of the cord. The spinal roots are divided into motor (anterior) and sensory (posterior) sections. They form the spinal nerves and leave the dura and the intervertebral foramina in a segmental fashion.

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