The vertebrae, or separate pieces of which the column is made up, are so named from their mobility (vertere, to turn). They are divided into true and false ; the former term being applied to those which remain separate in the adult, and retain their mobility; the latter to such as become united into one mass (viz. the sacrum), or degenerate as it were, and lose all the ordinary characters of vertebrae (viz. the coccyx).
The sacrum, much the largest piece of the vertebral column, is placed, when the body is in the erect position, at the superior and posterior part of the pelvis, beneath the last lumbar vertebra, above the coccyx, and between the ossa innominata, between which it is inserted, in some measure like a keystone into an arch.
The true vertebra are divided into three sets, named from the regions they occupy, cervical, dorsal, lumbar. They present, 1. certain general characters by which they may at once be distinguished from bones of any other class; 2. those of each region (cervical, dorsal, lumbar,) exhibit peculiar characters by which they are severally distinguished ; 3. certain vertebras present special or individual characters.
Amongst the lumbar vertebrae, the fifth only is distinguishable by any peculiarity deserving of notice, its body being thicker anteriorly than posteriorly, and its transverse process short, thick, and rounded.
The first dorsal vertebra is marked at each side by a complete articular surface for the first rib, and on its inferior border by a slight excavation, which receives half the head of the second : the upper articular processes are oblique, and the spinous more nearly horizontal than those below it.
A typical cervical vertebra (from the third to the sixth inclusive) presents the following characteristics : - The body is smaller than in other regions of the column and is of oval shape with the long axis transverse. The lateral margins of the upper surface are raised into prominent lips, so that the surface is concave from side to side; it is also sloped downward in front. The inferior surface, on the contrary, projects downward in front and is rounded off at the sides to receive the corresponding lips of the adjacent vertebra. It is concave antero-posteriorly and convex in an opposite direction.
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