Understanding the Anatomy of the Spine: A Guide to Back Pain

“Back pain will affect approximately 3 in 4 adults during their lifetime. It’s caused, directly or incidentally, by a huge number of health conditions, so this can make teasing out the root cause of back pain exceedingly difficult” [1], & this is why it is essential to get an accurate pain diagnosis by arranging a consultation with a Pain Doctor.

Putting a Spotlight on the Different Parts of the Spine

The Cervical Spine (which has 7 vertebrae)

The cervical section of our spine (which starts at the base of our skull, and extends down to the base of our neck at the top of our thoracic spine), is extremely mobile. It is however, somewhat susceptible to degeneration. Moreover, as we age, our pain is more inclined to be in what is referred to as the ‘transitional zone’ – an area between the flexible cervical vertebrae and the more rigid thoracic section of our spine.

The Thoracic Spine (which has 12 vertebrae)

The thoracic section (the middle/longest segment) of our spine, is associated with our chest, and connected to our ribs. It begins at the base of our neck, and ends at the base of our ribs. Elderly people in particular, can be subject to losing bone mass, and hence, as any Pain Specialist will tell you, they are predisposed to suffering compression fractures in this region. If you Pain Doctor suspects that this may be the case, then they will arrange for you to have a bone mass test.

The Lumbar Spine (which has 5 vertebrae)

The lumbar section is normally identified as the lower back. It starts at the base of the thoracic spine, and extends down to the start of the triangular-shaped sacrum bone. Of note: “younger patients are more prone to discogenic back pain, whereas older patients are more prone to facet joint issues” [1]. (Discogenic pain refers to one or more intervertebral discs generating pain; whereas facet joint problems arise from the top and bottom of each vertebra) [1].

The Sacral Region

At the end, we have the sacral region, which is situated at the bottom of the spine. It consists of a flat, triangular shaped sacrum bone (which comprises five fused bones) which connect to the hips, and the coccyx. Of note: the coccyx is also referred to as the tail bone, an evolutionary remnant.
When older patients visit a Pain Specialist, the latter regularly uncover degeneration within this sacral area. Moreover, when people of all ages have a hard fall and land on their backside, they often fracture their sacrum [1].


[1]. Briseno, M. (2020). “Back Pain: Everything You Need to Know.”