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Your Spine

  1. When we're born, our spine consist of 33 individual vertebrae.
  2. As we age, some of these vertebrae fuse together. The five vertebrae composing our sacrum become one bone and the coccygeal vertebrae – which can vary from three to five bones – fuse together as one. Thus, the tailbone is formed.
  3. You have twelve vertebrae in your thoracic area – the middle portion of the back.You have five vertebrae in your lumbar spine area – the lower back.And the cervical area, or the neck, is comprised of seven individual vertebrae.
  4. Did you know that both humans and long-necked giraffes have seven cervical vertebrae? Impressive given the giraffe's height; however, this demonstrates well the flexibility and versatility of the spinal structure.
  5. Another interesting fact about the cervical vertebrae is they're sometimes referred to as Atlas, referencing the Greek mythological Atlas who was burdened with carrying the world on top of his shoulders (much like the neck supports and carries the weight of the head.)
  6. Over 100 joints allow for the spine's extreme flexibility and range of movement.
  7. Did you know, if bent into a circle, nearly two thirds of the shape could be created due to the intricate and flexible formation of the spine?
  8. Over one fourth of the spine's total length is created from cartilage, the sponge-like substance that separates one vertebral disc from the next.
  9. Cartilage can expand and contract. Interestingly, if gravity is removed (in space travel, for example) a person can return to earth taller than when he or she left. Oppositely, gravity's pull on our bodies over the years shrinks cartilage, making us decrease in height as we age.
  10. Most back pain, approximately 80%, doesn't require medical treatment and typically subsides in one to two months. (If, however, back pain is persistent or acute, it's recommended you seek medical attention.)
  11. Backbones are surprisingly strong, however, and they can sustain the weight and pressure of hundreds of kilograms.
  12. The spine has an excellent memory, and as such, it's recommended that you take care to provide it with proper support from a young age.

Controlling your posture, engaging in strengthening the back muscles, as well as stretching are all beneficial to the long-term health of your spine.

Getting older. Back pain is more common the older you get. You may first have back pain when you are 30 to 40 years old.

Poor physical fitness. Back pain is more common in people who are not fit.

Being overweight. A diet high in calories and fat can make you gain weight. Too much weight can stress the back and cause pain.

Heredity. Some causes of back pain, such as ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that affects the spine, can have a genetic component.

Other diseases. Some types of arthritis and cancer can cause back pain.

Your job. If you have to lift, push, or pull while twisting your spine, you may get back pain. If you work at a desk all day and do not sit up straight, you may also get back pain.

Smoking. Your body may not be able to get enough nutrients to the disks in your back if you smoke. Smoker's cough may also cause back pain. People who smoke are slow to heal, so back pain may last longer.