An Overview of Your Vertebrae and Spinal Column
Your backbone is one of the most essential parts of your body, and while we colloquially call it the backbone, it’s actually made up of 33 specific bones, each one called a “vertebra,” or collectively referred to as “vertebrae.” These bones protect your spinal cord, the vital bundle of nerves that run from your brain to the rest of your body and is the core means by which your brain-body communication happens.
Every single signal your brain sends to the rest of your body passes through your spinal cord, with different root bundles located at different areas. This means that each vertebra in your spine protects an important core group of nerves that can control everything from moving your shoulders and neck to symptoms of illnesses.
When any vertebra in your spine is out of alignment, this is called a subluxation. Subluxated vertebrae can put pressure on your nerve bundles, creating severe symptoms that range from neck and back pain to radiating pain in your extremities, and can even influence illnesses like diabetes. Let’s look at each vertebra in your spine and learn not only the nerves it protects and the symptoms of a misalignment, but how great Woodbridge, VA, area chiropractors can help get you feeling good again.
The top vertebrae in your spine are the first seven bones that connect your skull to your backbone. These are called the cervical vertebrae and are designated C1 through C7, in descending order. Each of these bones serves a specific purpose, and when they are out of alignment, they create specific issues. They’re also some of the most common subluxations that Woodbridge, VA, area chiropractors face.
The C1 is the very first vertebra in your spine. Also called the Atlas, it’s located at the top of your neck and serves to connect your back to your skull. It supports the weight of your head and is secured by ligaments and muscles that allow for a range of movement. It’s also the only vertebra that isn’t cushioned by a disc.
What makes the C1 critical is that it protects your brain stem as it comes out of your skull. As such, the pressure it can create when misaligned can cause issues that radiate through your whole body. In many ways it’s like a master switch to handle your whole nervous system. Issues at the C1 can produce ailments like headaches, motion injuries, pain throughout the body and even the common cold, as well as problems with blood pressure, hormonal balance and mental health.
The C2 vertebra is next down and is also called the Axis. This bone serves largely as a sort of hinge, which allows you to pivot your head to the right and left. It’s responsible for your sinuses and other important functions, and a subluxation in this area can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms, not the least of which are pain in your neck and difficulty with moving your head.
Other health concerns associated with the C2 include problems with vision, hearing and even your tongue. Many sinus infections can be traced to a C2 subluxation. In addition, patients with issues in this region can suffer allergies, eye pain, dizziness and balance issues, fainting and loss of hearing.
Next up is the C3 vertebra. It’s located just about parallel to your lower jaw and is directly associated with your facial bones, teeth, cheeks, outer ear and your fifth cranial nerve, or the main nerve in your face. It protects nerve bundles that enable many important functions in your head as well as functions of your diaphragm and breathing.
While neuralgia or neuritis, nerve pain and inflammation, are the most common symptoms associated with subluxations of the C3, people can experience a range of other symptoms. These include issues moving your face and neck, paralysis, bladder control issues and even acne and eczema.
Next down, we have the C4 vertebra, which can cause some pretty surprising conditions when misaligned. It’s roughly at the same level as your Adam’s apple, and it’s largely responsible for the nerves that affect your nose, mouth and ears. It also affects the nerves that control your breathing and the motor function in your arms, shoulders and chest.
People who suffer subluxations in the C4 region can suffer numbness and pain in their chest and arms, even paralysis. Other surprising conditions are also connected to this cervical vertebra, however. Some people who have asthma or COPD discover that a simple C4 adjustment can aid in alleviating their symptoms!
At the C5, we get to the vertebra that’s critical to the function of your diaphragm. When you get an injury at this level, your ability to breathe can be directly affected, as can systems like your vocal cords, neck glands and pharynx. The nerves that the C5 protects affect certain areas of your skin and nerve paths that allow for movement of your shoulders, biceps and elbows.
Problems with a misaligned C5 include tingling, limited range of motion, numbness, and laryngitis or a simple sore throat, in addition to breathing difficulties.
The sixth vertebra down from the top of your neck, the C6, is the second to last in your neck. It protects a number of important nerve bundles that affect your tendons, throat and similar systems. Those who suffer injuries in this region often discover that they have problems controlling their forearm and wrist movement on one or both sides.
Some specific issues with C6 damage include numbness and tingling, paralysis, loss of motion, lack of wrist control, problems breathing, issues with bladder and bowel control and carpal tunnel syndrome. Tonsillitis, chronic coughing and a stiff neck can also be indicators of issues in this region.
C7 Vertebra/T1 Vertebra
The C7 is the lowest vertebra in your neck, and serves as the transition point between your cervical and thoracic (or upper back) region. For this reason, it’s also considered the T1, or first Thoracic vertebra. The two terms are used interchangeably. When you run your hand down the back of your neck, you’ll feel this one protruding a bit — that’s the normal position of your C7/T1.
This vertebra, when it’s misaligned, can put pressure on nerves that control joint mobility. As such, people who suffer issues in this area may suffer from conditions like bursitis of the shoulder or elbow, which manifests similar symptoms to tendinitis. Other conditions include problems with the thyroid gland, which regulates growth, brain chemistry and body temperature.
Moving down from your cervical region, we enter the thoracic area. Your thoracic region, or your upper-to-middle back area, is comprised of 12 different vertebrae. Like the cervical region, they are numbered T1 to T12, from top to bottom. Also like the cervical region, the thoracic vertebrae each protect a specific area of body functions.
Since the C7 vertebra is the same as the T1, we’ll start with the T2 vertebra. Let’s look at the functions your thoracic region protects.
At the T2 level, your backbone protects those nerves that control your cardiovascular system, including the coronary arteries through which blood flows to the rest of the body. Like any bone in your back, a subluxation in the T2 region can cause back pain and limited motion, but it can also be responsible for a range of more serious problems.
Patients suffering a subluxation in their T2 region can experience a wide range of major problems that can even be life threatening. These include: the functioning of your pulmonary arteries and aorta, chest pain, blood pressure issues, breathing problems, rapid heartbeat and other symptoms.
Like the T2, the T3 vertebra is responsible for protecting the nerves that regulate your vascular system and your chest function. This includes important organs like your lungs, pleura and bronchial tubes, as well as feeling and function in the chest and nipples. Basic symptoms of a misalignment in this region include everything from back pain and coughing to headaches, chills, fever and loss of appetite.
More serious conditions that can be connected to a subluxated T3 vertebra include the flu, pleurisy, pneumonia and bronchial infections, including bronchitis. A chiropractor can sometimes repair such symptoms by adjusting your T3 so that it returns to its normal place.
The T4 vertebra is important, as it not only protects the nerve bundles in your spinal cord, but it serves as a support bone for your rib cage. It also protects nerve roots that regulate your gallbladder function. That makes it an exceptionally important bone in your body.
Patients who experience subluxations in the T4 area can suffer a wide range of unpleasant symptoms. These can include things like jaundice, shingles and gallstones. The worst cases can even result in increased risk of illnesses like hepatitis, liver disease, cancer and biliary tract blockage.
The T5 is one of the most important bones in your entire spine, and by extension, your entire body. When it’s misaligned, back pain is only the most basic symptom you might experience. It’s located in a central position and protects the nerves that communicate with your liver, release hormones and regulate metabolism and the production of insulin and glucose. It’s essential to your pancreas, heart, lungs and digestion.
That means that people who have a T5 vertebral subluxation can experience symptoms of diabetes as well as liver disease and pancreatitis. You can also experience cardiovascular issues, blood pressure problems and a broad range of other ailments.
Your T6 vertebra is the bone that protects those nerves which regulate your digestive system, and in particular, your stomach. This can have very far-reaching effects on the rest of your body. This bone is also anchored to your ribcage for extra protection, but it can still be subject to misalignment due to injury.
Common symptoms associated with a subluxated T6 vertebra include hampering basic indigestion, as well as issues like heartburn, acid reflux and nervous stomach. These conditions can be very painful and disruptive, and if left unaddressed, they can become quite serious.
Like the T6, your T7 vertebra also deals with digestion, but it has additional responsibilities related to your entire immune system. It protects the nerve bundles that regulate your immune response, including hormones and antibodies necessary to fight disease. When it’s out of alignment, your immune system can be over- or underactive, causing many potential problems.
Patients whose T7 is out of alignment can suffer effects such as gastritis, ulcers and maldigestion that develop due to excess acid buildup. More serious issues involve peptic ulcer disease and chemical imbalances. Your spleen function can be impaired, leading to inflammation, infection and a wide variety of illnesses because your body can’t put up an adequate defense against pathogens.
Your T8 Vertebra is the bone responsible directly for your immune system and spleen. If the T6 is the primary bone responsible for your digestion, with the T7 augmenting its function, the same goes for the T8 and your immune system. A wide range of infections and illnesses can result from a subluxated T8.
By controlling the areas of your body that synthesize antibodies and remove bad bacteria, the nerves under your T8 are essential to your overall health and well-being. A misaligned T8 can make you more susceptible to blood infections, viral and bacterial infections, fungal infections, STDs and the flu.
The ninth bone down in your thoracic region, the T9 backbone is the one that protects your adrenal glands and the health of your stomach. These bodily systems are very important to your everyday energy, mental health, stress management and other aspects of hormonal balance.
When someone suffers an accident or injury that results in a T9 misalignment, they can experience symptoms such as adrenal fatigue, decreased sex drive, exhaustion, reduced enjoyment of life, high levels of stress and emotional problems. In more serious cases, they can suffer from ailments such as stomach disease, liver disease, gallstones, pancreatitis and the like.
Next down in your spine is the T10, or tenth thoracic vertebra. At this level, you’re getting into the region responsible for your overall sensation and mobility. It’s one of the more commonly injured backbones when someone suffers an accident during workouts, sports or other circumstances.
When the T10 is injured, patients experience serious symptoms. These can include loss of bowel and bladder control. They can also lose sensation and mobility in their limbs, which in the worst cases can lead to complete paralysis and inability to use the extremities.
We’re almost to the bottom of your thoracic region now. The T11 vertebra is a bone that protects the nerves that control many of your lower body organs. Your sciatic nerve is also protected partially by this backbone, and it can be one of the vertebrae that is responsible when a patient experiences symptoms of sciatica.
In addition, a number of other symptoms can be indicators of a T11 subluxation. These include pain in the lower back and ribs, as well as conditions like constipation, gas, diarrhea and problems with blood sugar that result in diabetes.
The T12 Vertebra is the lowest bone in your thoracic region. It’s built to bear the weight of your whole spine, and it’s the strongest of all the vertebrae in this region. Unfortunately, it’s also the one that’s most prone to injury from stress or accidents. Much like the lowest cervical vertebrae, it serves as a transitional bone between the thoracic and the lumbar regions.
T12-area injuries can result in back pain that radiates through your rib cage and into the abdominal muscles and even the legs. Unfortunately, these symptoms can be shared by a variety of other conditions including cancer and scoliosis, so it’s vital to have the condition diagnosed if you experience such problems.
The Lumbar Region Vertebrae
After the thoracic region, we move into the lumbar area, commonly known as your lower back. Unlike the upper vertebrae, the lumbar region vertebrae don’t provide the same level of protection to core nerve bundles, but they protect very specific nerves and are designed to bear the weight of everything above.
This makes them especially vulnerable to stress-related injuries called compression injuries, as well as various age-related conditions and basic wear and tear on your body. Five vertebrae are in the lumbar region, numbered L1 through L5, from the top to bottom.
The L1 vertebra, the highest bone in the lumbar area, is known as a transitional vertebra. Along with the T12, it serves as the point where your thoracic region transfers to your lumbar region. Because of its largely supportive function, it is highly susceptible to compression injuries and the conditions that come along with them.
The most common injury associated with the L1 region is spondylolisthesis, which is when a vertebra slips or shifts out of place. Ruptured or bulging discs are also common L1 injuries. Symptoms of such an injury include pain in the lower back that radiates into the buttocks, sides and legs. Such pain can be debilitating to the point where it interferes with daily activities.
Next down in your lower back region is the L2, or second lumbar vertebra. In this bone, the most commonly seen injuries are to the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in your body. These injuries most often result in a condition called sciatica, which manifests as sharp, debilitating pain in the back, legs and sides.
Other injuries frequently seen in the L2 region include degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, herniated (bulging) discs and spinal stenosis. Symptoms of L2 damage or subluxation include pain, weakness, loss of function and tingling or numbness.
The L3 vertebra is very similar to the L2, at least in terms of the kinds of injury it suffers. It’s a bit larger than the L2 and, like the other lumbar vertebrae, carries the responsibility of bearing the weight of the body above it. At the L3 level, common injuries include bone spurs, spondylosis, bulging discs and spinal arthritis.
In addition, athletic injuries from compression stress are extremely common at this level. The symptoms of such injuries include radiating pain that begins in the lower back and moves through the buttocks, down the legs and all the way to the feet.
The L4 level protects important regions of your body related to weight support, including the lumbar and sacral plexus nerves. These nerve endings are primarily responsible for motor and sensory functions, and the sciatic nerve is part of these endings. This bone also protects and helps to support your hip and pelvic muscles.
The most common problems suffered in this region are osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis. Of course, compression fractures, bulging or herniated discs and other stress-related, athletic and wear-and-tear injuries also occur here.
We’ve now reached the lowest level vertebra in your lumbar region, the L5 vertebra. The sciatic nerve runs through this bone as well, meaning that sciatica can also be related to an L5 injury. In fact, sciatica is a very common condition that arises from an L5 misalignment or compression injury.
When patients suffer an L5 compression fracture, bulging disc, subluxation or other injury, the pain can be severe. Such pain can be localized or radiate and can be combined with muscle weakness, tingling and numbness. These symptoms can extend all the way into the feet and can be very disruptive, even resulting in paralysis.
The Sacral Vertebrae
Two more vertebrae make up your backbone. The topmost of these is the sacral bone, or sacrum, a large, triangular-shaped bone that connects to your lumbar region. Interestingly, it only forms when you’re between 18 and 30 years of age; before that, you have five sacral vertebrae numbered S1 to S5. These vertebrae eventually fuse to form a single bone.
The sacral vertebra is at the back of your pelvis and serves as the connecting point for several different bones that create joints allowing you to move — these include your lumbar, tailbone and hip bones.
The most common injury to the sacral region is the sacroiliac sprain, which is a sort of joint dislocation commonly caused by athletic or stress injuries. Other disorders include spina bifida, sacral agenesis and caudal regression syndrome. Fractures are also common, and sarcoma cancers can develop here.
The Coccyx or Tailbone
The very bottom bone in your spinal column is your coccyx, also commonly called the tailbone. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the coccyx is that it is, quite literally, the remains of a tail that we once had and have evolved beyond. The coccyx is now an essential bone to help you evenly distribute your weight to allow stability and balance when sitting and moving.
In addition, the coccyx connects many of your pelvic muscles, which support a range of bodily functions while also helping you walk, run, and generally move your legs. One of the most common issues with the tailbone is coccydynia, which is simply a term that refers to persistent pain in the tailbone.
Coccydynia tends to be worse in women, and it is localized pain that gets worse when you put pressure on the spine. The reason it’s about five times more common in women than men is that women generally possess a broader pelvic region to allow for childbirth. This leaves the tailbone more exposed to harm. Childbirth itself can actually cause acute coccyx damage as the baby moves over the tailbone.
Woodbridge, VA, Area Chiropractors
Woodbridge, VA, area chiropractors can care for injuries in just about every level of the spinal column, from the topmost bone in the cervical region, all the way to the bottom of the tailbone. When a vertebra is subluxated, or misaligned, it places pressure on the nerves it’s supposed to protect. This pressure interferes with the signals your brain sends to other areas of your body.
When your brain can’t communicate properly with your body, a wide range of problems can occur. It can result in pain, reduced mobility and loss of function. It can even result in ailments ranging from diabetes to cancer and others.
Chiropractors adopt a whole-body approach to health and wellness that focuses on addressing the root cause of injuries. They do this partially by ensuring your spine is in the proper alignment and curvature. If you’re experiencing back pain or any of the issues in this article, ACT Wellness Center may be able to help. We are the leading Woodbridge, VA, area chiropractors for over nine years running. Give us a call for an examination and to get back on the road to wellness today.
Reference(s): Spinal Nerve Chart Dr. R.L. Hartman ©1995
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