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Derived from the Latin word pediculus, which means 'little foot,' a pedicle is one of a pair of short, cylindrically-shaped bone formations located on each vertebra of the human spine. This comparison of the pedicle to a small foot is most likely because these short processes extend from the vertebra, giving the appearance that it is standing on the bone formations.
In human anatomy, each vertebra is comprised of two bone arches, called the anterior and posterior arches. These form an opening that the body’s primary nerve cord passes through. Pedicles are found on either side of the posterior arch, with the shapes directed slightly upward and to the back.
A complex structure, the spine serves a number of essential functions that include flexibility of movement and providing the necessary structural support for upright posture. The spine is comprised of 33 vertebrae, and each is stacked on the next to create a kind of column. There are four distinct regions of the spine, identified as the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral region. Regardless of its location, each vertebra has the same components — an anterior and a posterior arch.
The anterior arch, also referred to as the vertebral body, is connected to each successive one with discs that help with the flexibility of the spine as a whole. Vertebral bodies and discs support the majority of the weight of the spine. The posterior arch is more complicated, and is made up of the laminae, pedicles, and processes. Above and below each pedicle pair is a concave shape known as the vertebral notch, which, together with each successive vertebra, forms the intervertebral foramina. Extending off the laminae, or the boney walls of the posterior arch, are a variety of processes that connect the spine to ligaments and tendons.
Perhaps the spine’s most important function is to protect the spinal cord. It is essentially the main neural pathway that transmits information throughout the body. The anterior and posterior arches form an open area in the center of the vertebra called the foramen. It is through these foramina that the spinal cord passes, with nerve roots exiting to the body between each pedicle pair. In the case of spine instability, it is possible for the pedicles to press down on a nerve root, resulting in pain or numbness.
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