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What Does the Backbone Do?

The rib cage, with part of the backbone visible at the bottom.
Sections of the backbone.
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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 19 April 2014
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The vertebral column is more commonly known as the spine, spinal column, or backbone, and it consists of several oddly shaped bones, called vertebrae. It performs a number of essential functions in the human body. These functions include structure and support, movement, and protection of vital nerves and organs. Discs made primarily of cartilage also aid in absorbing the impact of most daily activities.

Structurally speaking, the backbone is considered to be one of the most important components of the human body. The vertebrae that make up this structure, along with a variety of muscles and ligaments is the section of the body that allows humans to remain in an upright position while sitting or standing. A person's backbone also provides a strong base and connection to the shoulders and pelvic girdle.

The top seven vertebrae, referred to as the cervical vertebrae, make up the upper-most section of the backbone. This section serves to connect the head to the rest of the body, which, as most people know, is another essential part of the body. Because of these seven vertebrae a person is able to hold his head up and move it around.

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The atlas and the axis are the top two vertebrae of the backbone that combine to make a pivot joint. This joint allows the head to move from side to side, and also up and down. The rest of the backbone, along with a number of different muscles and ligaments, also aids a person in certain types of other movements. If the spinal column was made up of one single, rigid bone instead of a number of smaller ones, humans would not be able to bend forward, backward, or side to side.

Protecting the spinal cord is probably one of the more well known functions of the backbone. The spinal cord is made up of a bundle of sensory and motor nerves that transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Without the protection of the backbone, the spinal column could very easily become injured or damaged. This could result in sensation loss and paralysis in certain parts of the body, depending on the area that was damaged.

Along with the protection of the spinal cord, the backbone also plays a role in protecting important vital organs in the body. Every rib connects to the backbone and curves around the side of the body to the front, forming the rib cage. These bones provide a relatively safe cavity for many vital organs, such as the heart, lungs, and stomach.

Intervertebral discs lie between each individual vertebra. These discs are made up of cartilage, and the inside is made up of a soft, jelly-like substance. These discs serve to absorb much of a person's daily activities such as walking.

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