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The spinal column is an intricate framework of interlocking bones that, when viewed from the side, form a gentle "S" shape. The spine is a sophisticated system— both fragile and sturdy— of muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, discs, a spinal cord, and nerves.
Joints, called "facet joints," and discs allow the spine to bend and twist and absorb mild shocks and bumps. The brain, spinal cord, and nerves manage your body's movement by sending messages to muscles. Supporting the entire structure is an intricate system of ligaments, tendons, and discs.
The vertebrae, facet joints, and discs are vertically stacked in a healthy spine. Ligaments support that alignment and discs, which are flexible, spongy pads, absorb shocks between the vertebrae and joints.
The spine has four natural curves, which help to evenly distribute the loads incurred by daily activity—from sitting, walking, and running, to lifting and carrying.
There are three major parts of your spine:
The sacrum, which lies at the base of your spine between the fifth lumbar and the tailbone, or coccyx, is a triangular-shaped bone made up of five fused parts. These are called "S1, S2, S3, S4 and S5." These unique parts connect to your pelvis by way of structures called sacroiliac joints.
Your neck, which is also called the upper cervical spine, is distinguished by two large vertebrae. One is called the upper bone, or atlas, and the other is called the lower bone, or axis.
These bones in your cervical spine do not need discs and protect the medulla oblongata, or lower brainstem. Inside the medulla oblongata are reflex centers that regulate such things as your heartbeat, breathing, the diameter of your blood vessels, swallowing, vomiting, coughing, sneezing, and hiccupping.
Almost half your brain's 12 cranial nerves originate in the medulla and control such things as balance and hearing, taste, swallowing, salivation, the digestive system, head and neck muscles, and the tongue. One can easily see that if the upper bones of your spinal cord are out of alignment, a whole host of things can go wrong in your body, some subtle, some not-so-subtle. However, it is not uncommon for many of us to have some sort of misalignment in these structures as we go through the daily trials and tribulations of life.
Basically, your spine is composed of four types of material. These are:
The soft tissues that envelop and support your spine make up an intricate network of muscles.
With the help of your body's abdominal muscles, this network helps to keep your body stabilized and upright, and allows it to bend and flex.
The types of muscles that support your spine include:
Your nervous system looks much like an upended tree, suspended from its roots at the base of your brain, its millions of limbs reaching out to every corner of your body.
Your spinal cord is like a thick braid formed by billions of these nerves. Your body has approximately 15 billion nerve cells—all of which receive and transmit nerve impulses by way of the spinal cord. These impulses control virtually all functions of your body—from your senses to mobility.
Your spinal cord actually ends near the base of your upper back, shooting out braids of nerves called "nerve roots." These nerve roots run through a large tunnel-like canal, and at each level of your spinal column, a pair of nerve roots exits from the spine.
Nerve roots are named for the level of your spine they exit from, beginning with a letter and followed by a number. For example, a nerve root in the cervical spine may be called "C6,"while a nerve root in the lumbar region may be called "L4."
Innate intelligence, the knowledge we are born with, guides cells and organs to receive and transmit impulses to our brain through this vast network of nerves.
A healthy spinal cord allows these impulses to flow freely back and forth. But when your spinal cord becomes misaligned, its parts get out of place and nerves can become pinched. When this happens, the flow of information from your nervous system gets interrupted. This imbalance, called subluxation, can lead to physical and emotional problems ranging from minor discomfort to major illnesses.