Spinal Cord Structure, Function & Terminology

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will go over the fundamental structure and function of the spinal cord. It will also cover the combining form that pertains to the spinal cord and delineate it from commonly confused combining forms.

A Break in the Cord

If you're like me, you still have a wired connection to your printer. Yeah, I know, it's a bit old school but I've had so much trouble with Wi-Fi printers spacing out on me that I went back to wired tech. I seem to have less trouble with it.

But if I were to cut the cord running to the printer, then I'd have problems. I wouldn't be able to transmit nor receive signals from the printer. This is very similar to what would happen to a complete break in the spinal cord, the topic of this lesson.

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  • 0:02 A Break in the Cord
  • 0:35 Spinal Cord Structure
  • 1:35 Spinal Cord Function
  • 2:31 Spinal Cord Nomenclature
  • 3:21 Lesson Summary
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Spinal Cord Structure

The spinal cord is a thick, long, fragile, and whitish cord of nerve tissue that starts at the end of the brainstem and extends through the spinal column. The spinal cord is enclosed by the meninges, three protective membranes that are called:

  • Dura mater
  • Arachnoid mater
  • And pia mater

With the dura mater being the most external and toughest of the three, and the pia mater being the most internal of the three. The cord itself is composed of a white matter exterior and a gray matter interior with a central canal running, well, in the center of the spinal cord!

The spinal cord is categorized into several regions:

  • The cervical spinal cord, which runs through the neck
  • The thoracic spinal cord, which is the segment running by the chest
  • The lumbar spinal cord, the one at the lower back
  • The sacral spinal cord, by the pelvis
  • The coccygeal spinal cord, by the tailbone

Spinal Cord Function

Even more numerous than the regions of the spinal cord are its many different functions. Let's go back to my computer and printer analogy. We know the printer can send a signal to the computer, if there is some internal error. We also know the computer can send a signal to the printer to perform a function.

So, the two main purposes of the cord tying the printer and computer are to receive information about something and to send information to perform a task. This is precisely what the spinal cord does. It relays sensory data coming from your body to the brain, and it transmits the brain's commands to perform a function, like to walk.

Knowing this, let's look at just some of the things the spinal cord is responsible for transmitting:

  • Pain sensation coming from places like the arms and legs
  • Commands to move an appendage
  • Signals that control reflexes, like the knee-jerk reflex performed at the doctor's office

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