What’s the Backbone for? The Function of the Vertebral Column

The vertebral column, also known as the spinal column or backbone, is a vital part of the human body consisting of 33 vertebrae. These vertebrae are divided into five regions: the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal. The major function of the vertebral column is to provide support and stability to the body, allowing us to stand erect and move in various directions. But the role of the spine goes beyond just support and movement. In this article, we will explore the multiple functions of the vertebral column and its importance in maintaining a healthy body.

The Structure of the Vertebral Column

The vertebral column is divided into five regions, each of which consists of a certain number of vertebrae. The cervical region, located in the neck, contains seven vertebrae. The thoracic region, in the upper back, has 12 vertebrae. The lumbar region, in the lower back, contains five vertebrae. The sacral region, in the pelvis, has five fused vertebrae. Finally, the coccygeal region, at the end of the spine, consists of four fused vertebrae.

Each vertebra is separated by intervertebral discs made of cartilage, which act as shock absorbers and allow for flexibility in movement. The spinal cord, which is the pathway for all nerve impulses that travel between the brain and body, runs through the spinal canal in the center of the vertebrae.

The Function of the Vertebral Column in Movement

The structure of the vertebral column allows for a range of movements that are essential for daily activities such as walking, running, and bending. The cervical region of the spine provides a range of motion for the head and neck, allowing us to turn our heads and look in different directions. The thoracic region of the spine provides stability to the rib cage, protecting our internal organs and allowing us to breathe. The lumbar region of the spine bears the most weight, making it the most vulnerable to injury. It is responsible for movements such as bending forward and backward, as well as side-to-side. The sacral and coccygeal regions provide support and stability to the pelvis and serve as anchors for the muscles of the lower limbs.

The Function of the Vertebral Column in Protection

The vertebral column also serves as protection for the spinal cord, which is essential for the function of the nervous system. The spinal cord is responsible for transmitting messages between the brain and the rest of the body, so any damage to the spinal cord can result in significant impairment or paralysis. The vertebrae protect the spinal cord by forming a bony canal that surrounds it. Additionally, the intervertebral discs absorb shock and cushion the spine, reducing the risk of injury to the spinal cord.

The Function of the Vertebral Column in Posture

The vertebral column plays an essential role in maintaining good posture. Poor posture can have adverse effects on the body, leading to neck and back pain, headaches, and reduced mobility. The vertebrae in the spine are arranged in a natural curvature that allows for proper alignment of the body. Maintaining good posture involves keeping the spine in its natural shape, which reduces the strain on the muscles and joints, allowing us to move with greater ease and flexibility.

The Function of the Vertebral Column in Blood Cell Production

The vertebral column is also responsible for producing red and white blood cells. The bone marrow, which is located inside the vertebral column, is the site of blood cell production. The red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, while the white blood cells protect the body against infections and diseases.

Common Questions and Answers About the Function of the Vertebral Column

  • What happens if your spinal cord is damaged?
    • A spinal cord injury can result in paralysis, loss of sensation, and impaired bodily functions.
  • What causes poor posture?
    • Poor posture can be caused by factors such as slouching, carrying heavy objects, and sitting for long periods without proper support.
  • What is scoliosis?
    • Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that can affect the posture and cause pain and discomfort.
  • Can you strengthen your back muscles?
    • Yes, exercises such as yoga, Pilates, and weight training can help strengthen the muscles in the back and improve posture.
  • Is it normal for my back to crack?
    • Yes, the cracking sound you hear when you move your back is caused by small pockets of air being released from the joints in the spine, and is generally not a cause for concern.


The vertebral column is a fundamental part of the human body, providing support, protection, and mobility. Its functions go beyond just movement and include blood cell production and maintaining good posture. It is important to take care of the spine by practicing good posture, exercising regularly, and seeking medical attention for any pain or discomfort.


  • Datta, G., & Gnanalingham, K. (2010). Spinal Cord Anatomy. Surgery (Oxford), 28(9), 404-408.
  • Kumar, P., Clark, M. (2017). Clark’s Clinical Medicine. Elsevier Limited.
  • Gaskill, S. E., Taylor, E. L., Osborn, R. E., & Glaser, J. A. (2014). Surgical Anatomy and Techniques to the Spine. Springer, New York, NY.

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