Joints of the vertebral column

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Joints of the Vertebral Column

Figure 1. Ligaments of the vertebral body. A. Posterior view of lumbar vertebrae with laminae cut. B. Sagittal view of lumbar vertebrae. C. Anterior view of lumbar vertebrae.
Figure 2. Accessory Ligaments of the vertebral column. A. Anterior view of vertebral column with bodies and IV discs removed. B. Sagittal section of vertebral column. C. Lateral view of cervical region.
Figure 3. Orientation of the zygapophyseal (facet) joints in the A. Cervical B. Thoracic C. Lumbar regions.
Figure 4. Anatomy of the atlanto-axial joints. A.  Superior view of the median atlanto-axial joint.  B. Superior view of atlanto-axial joint. C. Inferior view of atlas highlighting the articular surfaces of the lateral atlanto-axial joints. D. Inferior view of occipital bone with ghosted atlas.
Figure 5. Posterior view of coronal section showing the ligaments supporting the atlanto-occipital and atlanto-axial joints.
Figure 6. Atlanto-occipital membranes. A. Posterior view and B. Anterior view (coronal section) showing craniovertebral joints.
Figure 7. Curvatures of the spine.


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The joints of the vertebral column include the joints of the vertebral bodies, the joints of the vertebral arches, the craniovertebral joints, costovertebral joints, and the sacroiliac joints.

These joints bear the body weight when sitting or standing, and give us the flexibility to do the downward dog in yoga class.

Let’s start with the joints of the vertebral bodies, which are symphyses or secondary cartilaginous joints - that aid in weight-bearing and provide strength to the vertebral column.

The articulating surfaces of adjacent vertebral bodies attach to each other by fibrocartilaginous discs called intervertebral discs or IV discs for short, in addition to numerous ligaments.

The intervertebral discs function as shock absorbers between adjacent vertebrae.

They also allow for limited movement between adjacent vertebrae, and while the movement between any two vertebrae is minor, the summation of those limited movements throughout the entirety of the vertebral column allow for the large movements of our spine.

The intervertebral discs consist of two distinct parts, a thick, tough, fibrous outer ring called the anulus fibrosus and a soft gelatinous core called the nucleus pulposus which the anulus fibrosus surrounds.

The anulus fibrosus is made up of circular layers of fibrocartilage, which allows the discs to withstand compression.

Now, the nucleus pulposus provides both flexibility and resilience to the intervertebral discs, where the gelatinous core allows the discs to absorb shock when they’re compressed by vertical forces.


Joints of the vertebral column lie between individual vertebrae that make up the spine. Between adjacent vertebrae lie fibrocartilaginous intervertebral discs, which absorb shock and allow movement. Joints of the vertebral column are craniovertebral joints, joints between the vertebral bodies, joints of the vertebral arches (also known as zygapophyseal joints, costovertebral joints, and the sacroiliac joints.


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