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My lower back – construction of the lumbar spine

Written by Theresia Lechner
Wirbelsäule mit ihren verschiedenen Abschnitten gezeichnet

Your lumbar spine is made up of various, fascinating building blocks. In this article we will take a closer look at these building blocks and, with this, the construction of the lumbar spine. This will give you the starting point for a pain-free and healthy relationship with your back.

Give me five – lumbar vertebrae!

The basic structure of your lumbar spine (i.e. L spine) is made up of 5 vertebrae and their joints. By the way, doctors and therapists count these from top to bottom, as well. That is why you will find the affected vertebra written as an L for lumbar with the corresponding number (L1, L2, L3 etc.) on a prescription or discharge summary, for example. At the very bottom of your spine you will find the sacrum and your coccyx [1]. Anyone who has ever unintentionally landed with full force on their behind is sure to have painful memories of these last two parts of the spine.

Aufbau der Lendenwirbelsäule mit Kreuzbein und Steißbein gezeichnet
The lumbar spine (blue) with sacrum and coccyx

Each of the 5 vertebrae consists of 5 bony elements:

  • A vertebral body (1*)
  • A spinous process (2*)
  • Two transverse processes (3*)
  • A vertebral arch (4*)

 

If you allow your fingers to run down your lower spine, you can feel the spinous processes in the form of small, firm elevations. At the level of these spinal processes, between two vertebrae, there are small joints both to the left and right. It is thanks to these 8 joints that you are able to bend forwards and backwards and lean to the side.

Furthermore, between your vertebral bodies you will find your spine’s shock absorbers: your intervertebral discs. In addition to your intervertebral discs, your spinal cord is also packed into your spine. Between each vertebral body and each spinous process, there is a vertebral arch that forms a protected space for your spinal cord. When doctors talk about the entirety of these holes, they call it the spinal canal (5*)[1].

Schematischer Aufbau eines Halswirbels mit Beschriftung der Bestandteile
Schematic construction of a vertebra with a vertebral body (1*), a spinous process (2*), two transverse processes (3*), a vertebral arch (4*) and the spinal canal (5*)

Please be aware that your spine and its components don’t simply float around in your body. On the contrary, they are firmly connected and conjoined with other connective tissue structures:

  • Muscles
  • Fasciae
  • Ligaments

As a result, all of the components together form a very resilient and simultaneously hugely flexible basic structure [1].

Your lumber spine a straight stick? Think again.

Although the basic structure of the lumbar spine is bone, it is anything but a rigid construct. As always, many people unfortunately still believe that, when upright, the spine looks like a straight stick.

You’ve probably heard the following advice often enough: straighten your spine when you sit.

However, there is no such thing as a straight spine. It looks much more like a snake. In medical circles this form is also referred to as the double S-shape spine. Your lumbar spine curves towards your stomach, so if your lower back is slightly hollow, this is completely normal and even important. It is due to this curve that any pressure pressing on to the spine from above – e.g. when jumping off a step – can be easily absorbed [1].

Form der Wirbelsäule mit ihren verschiedenen Abschnitten gezeichnet
Double S-shape spine

What you have learnt about the construction of the lumbar spine in this article

As you now know, your lumbar spine is not rigid, but rather an extremely agile and simultaneously strong structure. It is made up of many building blocks, several of which you now already know about.

Back up your knowledge

Your sacrum actually consists of five agile vertebrae – just like your lumbar spine. It isn’t until after birth that these 5 vertebrae fuse together and become one single triangular bone [1].

Important to note:
This article contains general recommendations only and must not be used for self-diagnosing or self-treatment. It is not a replacement for visiting your GP.

[1] Schünke, M. ; Schulte, E.; Schumacher,U.(2007): Prometheus. LernAtlas der Anatomie. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag.