The Human Spine: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

The human spine, also known as the backbone, is a series of bones stretching from the neck to the pelvis. What is the function of the spine, and how is it assembled? Read on to find out.

What is the Spine?

The human body is made up of many different parts. We have muscles to help us move, skin to cover and protect us, and internal organs to keep us alive. Which parts of our bodies give us structure, protect our soft parts, and keep us upright? If you said our bones, you are exactly right!

The skeleton gives us structure.

Grown adults have about 206 bones that make up the skeleton. A skeleton gives a body shape and structure, like the framing of a house. One series of bones runs the entire length of the neck and back and has a unique design that allows us to move in all sorts of ways. It is called the spine, and its main job is to support the body. Let's take a look at the parts of the spine.

What Are Vertebrae?

If you run your fingers down your back, you'll feel the protruding bones that make up your spine, also known as your backbone. The spine is made up of 33 interlocking bones called vertebrae (pronounced vur-tuh-bray) . You can think of vertebrae like beads on a string, able to bend, twist, and turn. If our spines were made of one long continuous bone, we wouldn't be able to bend over!

Vertebrae make up the spine.

From the skull all the way down to the tailbone, the vertebrae sit on top of one another in a slight s-shape. Bones in the spine have openings through which passes a very important part of our nervous system: the spinal cord. Our bodies can't function properly without a totally healthy spinal cord. So, we are very fortunate that our spine provides a shell of armor to protect it!

What Does a Vertebra Look Like?

Each vertebra (pronounced vur-tuh-bruh) itself is a complex little bone that looks almost like a puzzle piece. It includes a main body, an opening for the spinal cord, and spiny parts called processes jutting out. These poky processes are the places where ligaments attach, sort of like rubber bands. They keep each vertebra connected to the next one. Between each vertebra is a spongy disc. Discs provide cushioning for the bones so that they do not clatter uncomfortably together.

How Are the Vertebrae Grouped?

The spine is divided into five main sections:

  • cervical
  • thoracic
  • lumbar
  • sacrum
  • coccyx

To remember these terms, think of this phrase: Crazy tigers like small cats.

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