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The different types of vertebrae in the human spine

A quick explainer defining the three types of vertebrae and showing their numbers in the vertebral column.

The spine extends from the head to the sacrum, and in most people consists of 24 vertebrae. The vertebral column can be divided into three segments:

Cervical: The first seven vertebrae, all in the neck. These are smaller and lightly built.

Thoracic: Twelve vertebrae, each articulating with the twelve pairs of ribs.

Lumbar: The lower five vertebrae, between the ribs and the sacrum. These have the largest vertebral bodies.

Anatomy of the vertebral column

Each of the three segments of the spine has a curve. The cervical spine and the lumbar curve both are convex anteriorly, while the thoracic spine curves the opposite way, convex posteriorly. Each vertebra is shaped a bit like a wedge to support these curves, especially noticeable with the five lumbar vertebrae. The lumbar curve is unique to humans, allowing us to maintain a vertical posture above our pelvis.