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Back and Spine
Know Your Back!
Skeletal structure of the back
The central feature of the human back is the vertebral column, specifically the length from the top of the thoracic vertebrae to the bottom of the lumbar vertebrae, which houses the spinal cord in its spinal canal, and which generally has some curvature that gives shape to the back. The ribcage extends from the spine at the top of the back (with the top of the ribcage corresponding to the T1 vertebra), more than halfway down the length of the back, leaving an area with less protection between the bottom of the ribcage and the hips. The width of the back at the top is defined by the scapula, the broad, flat bones of the shoulders.
Muscles of the back
The spine is bordered by several groups of muscles, including the intertransversarii muscle which facilitate movement between the individual vertebrae, and the multifidus spinae, which facilitate the movement of the spine as a whole.
Other muscles in the back are associated with the movement of the neck and shoulders. The trapezius muscle, which is named from its trapezium-like shape, runs between the neck, the anterior chain, the two shoulders, and the thoracic vertebra, T12. The large latissimus dorsi make a triangle from the shoulder to the hip.
Function of the back
The intricate anatomy of the back provides support for the head and trunk of the body, strength in the trunk of the body, as well as a great deal of flexibility and movement. The upper back has the most structural support, with the ribs attached firmly to each level of the thoracic spine and very limited movement. The lower back (lumbar vertebrae) allows for flexibility and movement in back bending (extension) and forward bending (flexion). It does not permit twisting.
The back comprises interconnecting nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons, all of which can be a source of pain. Back pain is one of the most common types of pain in adults. By far the most common cause of back pain is muscle strain. The back muscles can usually heal themselves within a couple of weeks, but the pain can be intense and debilitating. Other common sources of back pain include disc problems, such as degenerative disc disease or a lumbar disc herniation, many types of fractures, such as spondylolisthesis or an osteoporotic fracture, or osteoarthritis. Read more about back pain.
Back Pain Prevention
- Lifestyle Choice
- Back Pain Safety
- Preventing Osteoporosis
- Pregnancy and Back Pain
The US Department of Health and Human Services has extensive information about back care and concerns.