Know Your Spine

The spine is very strong, and it needs to be to protect the spinal cord, our vital 'highway of nerves', travelling to the brain

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  • The spinal cord is protected by the spine. Nerves from the spinal cord come out from between the vertebrae to send and receive messages to various parts of the body.
  • There are 23 discs between each vertebra (except for the first cervical one). The discs are the main joints of the spine and make up one third of spinal height. The outer layer of each disc is made up of tough, flexible cartilage and the inner part is made up of a gel-like substance, which acts as a shock absorber.

Before age 40, approximately 25 per cent of people show evidence of disc degeneration.

After age 40, this climbs to more than 60 per cent.

  • More than 70 per cent of disc prolapses which put pressure on the nerve roots are not associated with pain. This may be because they happen slowly over time.

There appears to be a strong family predisposition to disc degeneration and herniation.

  • The spinal cord is shorter than the spinal canal. A zygapophysial (facet) joint links one vertebra to the one above it, to control and limit movement of the spine. Below the end of the cord, the nerve roots form the cauda equina (horsetail), which contains most of the lumber and all the sacral and coccygeal nerve roots.
  • Strong ligaments connect the vertebrae to give extra support and strength to the spine. The various muscles via tendons enable the spine to bend and move.


The Australian Pain Management Association Ltd. (APMA) is a health promotion charity providing advocacy, information and practical support for people living with chronic (persistent) pain and their families. APMA is the consumer health organisation for all Australians who live with pain. APMA is your voice.


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Australian Pain Management Association Ltd. (APMA)
Level 1, Gabba Towers, 411 Vulture St, Woolloongabba QLD 4102
GPO Box 2104, Brisbane 4001