How is the spinal cord protected?

View from front to back of spine and spinal cord (Back of spine)
View from front to back of spine and spinal cord (Back of spine)

The spinal cord is protected by bones, discs, ligaments, and muscles. The spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae. The spinal cord passes through a hole in the center (called the spinal canal) of each vertebra. Between the vertebrae there are discs that act as cushions, or shock absorbers for the spine. Ligaments and muscles help keep the vertebrae in the right position.

Spinal cord motor and sensory tracts

There are many pathways or “tracts” in the spinal cord. The motor tracts are in the front and middle parts of the cord. These nerve paths tell the body to move your arms and legs. If there is damage to the motor tracts, a person may have weakness or not be able to move below the level of damage.

The sensory tracts are in the front and back parts of the cord. These nerve paths allow sensation. Damage to the front part of the spinal cord can cause loss of the ability to feel pain, as well as hot and cold sensations below the level of damage. Damage to the back part of the spinal cord can cause loss of the ability to feel the sense of position of the arms or legs.

Top view looking down on spine and spinal cord

Top view looking down on spine and spinal cord (Front of spine)
Last reviewed: 
March 2018

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