Spinal Cord Lesson for Kids: Definition & Function

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Your spinal cord is a delicate collection of nerves that runs down your back. In this lesson, you'll learn about the spinal cord and its important functions in your body.

What Is the Spinal Cord?

If you like to read in bed, then you probably have a lamp on your nightstand. That lamp runs on electricity. When you turn the lamp on, electricity runs from an outlet to your lamp through a power cord. If you were to look inside that cord, you'd see the wires that carry the electric current.

Did you know that your body has a power cord that runs all day long and never has to be plugged in? It's called your spinal cord, and instead of wires, it contains nerves that travel to and from your brain. Those nerves carry information by way of electrical signals or impulses.

Your spinal cord runs down your back.

Your brain and spinal cord work together to make sure everything runs smoothly in your body. Together, they make up your central nervous system.

What Does the Spinal Cord Do?

The spinal cord's main function is to carry electrical signals between your brain and the rest of your body. Those electrical messages let your brain know what's going on in your body and also allow your brain to tell your muscles and organs what to do.

Your spinal cord also controls your reflexes. A reflex is a quick action that your body does without telling the brain. Did you ever touch a hot stove and quickly pull your hand away, even before you could think, 'Ouch, that's hot!' That's a reflex. The sensation of heat that was picked up by your finger traveled to your spinal cord. Instead of wasting the time it would take to carry that message to your brain, your spinal cord sent a message to your arm muscles to pull away.

Spinal Cord Description

Your spinal cord is protected by your vertebral column.

Your spinal cord is a delicate structure, but luckily, it's protected by a bony structure called the vertebral column or backbone. The vertebral column is not a single bone. Instead, it's made up of small, moveable bones called vertebra. There are 7 cervical vertebrae in your neck, 12 thoracic vertebrae in your upper back, and 5 lumbar vertebrae in your low back.

There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves that come off of the spinal cord and pass through holes in the vertebral column. The nerves that come off of the spinal cord make up your peripheral nervous system. They link your body parts to your central nervous system.

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