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Understanding How the Spine Works

Pointing at spine

A Guide to the Functionality of Your Spine

The movements we take for granted wouldn't be possible without a healthy spine. Thanks to your strong backbone, you can jump over a puddle, bend to pick up your dropped keys, or twist to reach your lunch in the backseat of your car.

The Parts of the Spine and What They Do

The spine is made up of small bones called the vertebrae that protect the spinal cord, support your body and help you move easily. Each vertebra contains a rounded section, known as the vertebral body, and finger-like projections called processes. The muscles in your back are attached to these processes with bands of connective tissues called tendons. Ligaments connect the vertebrae together and help keep your spine stable when you move.

The spinal cord, a thick bundle of nerve fibers that transmit impulses from the brain, passes through a hollow area in the middle of the vertebra. These impulses keep your organs and immune system functioning properly, tell your muscles to contract when you move, and control breathing and other bodily functions. Nerves branch out from the spinal cord and travel to the various parts of your body.

Vertebrae also contain facet joints, sections of cartilage where two vertebrae meet. Facet joints are responsible for the flexibility and stability of your spine and help you turn, twist and bend. Small rubbery discs between each vertebra cushion your spine and absorb shock.

Your spine isn't perfectly straight but forms an "S" shape. This shape keeps your weight evenly distributed, enhances flexibility, and reduces pressure on your back.

The 33 vertebrae in your spine are divided into these five sections:

  • Cervical Spine: The cervical spine starts at the base of your head and contains seven vertebrae. These vertebrae support your head and neck and make it possible to turn your head.
  • Thoracic Spine: The 12 thoracic vertebrae start at the bottom of your neck. They connect to your ribs and help support your chest and torso.
  • Lumbar Spine: Five lumbar vertebrae make up your lower back. Since this area supports most of your body's weight, it's the most frequently injured part of the back.
  • Sacrum: The sacrum is a triangular piece of bone formed of five vertebrae fused together. The sacrum connects to the hips and doesn't move, unlike your other vertebrae. It supports your pelvis and keeps it stable.
  • Coccyx (Tailbone): Your tailbone is actually made up of four vertebrae fused together. Although this part of the spine also doesn't move, it provides an anchoring point for ligaments and muscles in your pelvis.

Common Causes of Back Pain

Pain in your spine can occur for many reasons, including:

  • Problems with Discs: Disc herniation, a problem that occurs when the soft inner core of the disk protrudes through the tough outer covering, can cause pain, numbness, and tingling. Herniated discs can occur due to injuries or aging.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis can affect any joint in your body, including the facet joints in your back.
  • Subluxations: Subluxations occur when the vertebrae become misaligned. Injuries can cause subluxations, they can also occur if you sit for long hours or have poor posture.
  • Tight Muscles: Muscle tension can cause backaches and may be related to subluxations. Misaligned vertebrae tend to pull on muscles, causing pain and tension.
  • Sprains and Strains: Strains or sprains in the muscles and ligaments in your back can happen if you lift a heavy object or twist your back too far.
  • Pinched Nerves: Misaligned vertebrae, tight muscles, or herniated discs may press against the nerves in your back, triggering pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness.
  • Scoliosis: Scoliosis, a condition usually diagnosed during childhood, occurs when the spine curves sideways. Back pain and muscle spasms can be related to scoliosis. You may also notice that one shoulder is higher than the other.

As much as we rely on our spines, it's not surprising that back pain is a common complaint. In fact, 80% of Americans can expect to experience back pain at some point in their lives, according to statistics from the American Chiropractic Association.

Chiropractic treats the source of back pain and helps keep your spine properly aligned. Are you frustrated by nagging back pain? Give us a call and we'll help you make an appointment with a chiropractor.

Sources:

American Chiropractic Association: Back Pain Facts and Statistics

National Center for Biotechnology Information: How Does the Spine Work? 2/14/19

University of Maryland Medical Center: A Patient’s Guide to Anatomy and Function of the Spine

Cleveland Clinic: Spine Structure and Function

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Testimonials

Reviews By Our Satisfied Patients

  • "What others say about chiropractic care can help you make the right health care choice. Read a selection of our patients reviews below and please email me or contact the office if you have any questions.
    Yours in Health,"
    Dr. Vern Miller
  • "Chronic Pain

    Dr. Miller's personable, friendly, gentle, and great office staff helps educate me about lifestyle changes I can make to improve my wellness. I cope with chronic pain and every visit I feel better leaving than when I walked into my appointment."
    Sarah S.
  • "Auto Accident Injuries

    I first started seeing Dr. Miller back in 2004 just after being in a car accident. I had always struggled with neck issues and migraines off and on even before the accident. Dr. Miller was the first chiropractor I had seen since moving to Fort Collins and after the accident I was cautious of going to anyone. From the very first visit, I felt like I'd found a chiropractor who truly cared about my health and well being. I'd never felt so much relief from chiropractic treatment until coming to Aspen Wellness Center. I have never gone to another chiropractor since starting here in 2004. Thank you Dr. Miller for all your help!"
    Nicole P.
  • "Family Care

    We have known Dr. Miller for several years. We appreciate his attention to detail and his expertise in complete body function. He is kind, caring, and compassionate in his approach with our children to meet their needs and temperament."
    Jolena W.
  • "Great Care

    I have been a patient of Dr. Millers for over 15 years and have been extremely happy with him and his staff. He is knowledgeable, friendly, and has a knack to treat what is needed! I would recommend him to friends and family!"
    Frank D.
  • "Comprehensive Care

    We love Chiropractic care with Dr. Miller so much we bring the whole family. Dr. Miller is knowledgeable and provides comprehensive whole body care. We love the friendly, helpful staff too!"
    Robin V.
  • "Professional and Great Care

    Dr. Miller is great. He has done wonders on my back or whatever I need done. His professionalism and caring manner towards his patients is next to none. I would not go to any other doctor but him. Thanks Dr. Miller for what you do."
    E.C. Varner
  • "Dr. Miller Listens and Cares About His Patients

    Dr. Miller is great! He is friendly, kind, and very knowledgeable. He listens to all concerns and addresses everything. He definitely cares about the full body and health of all body systems, not just the skeletal/muscular. Dr. Miller does not make unnecessary appointments, he schedules them for a time that is just right for the wear and tear of the body. He is flexible and helpful for last minute or emergency visits/treatments."
    Mallory H.
  • "Herniated Disc

    I've been seeing Dr. Miller since 2010 for a herniated disc at L5-S1 that diagnosed in 2002. He helped me avoid back surgery for years and when I injured myself and herniated L4-L5, he changed tactics and worked hard to help relieve my sciatic pain. Surgery was inevitable but continuing my treatments with Dr. Miller post-op, I have recovered 100% and am now completely pain free. Dr. Miller tailors his treatments specifically to your needs and pays close attentions to your symptoms, making sure not to do anything that would aggravate your condition. Dr. Miller has been a life saver and has helped me regain and maintain my mobility multiple times over the year when I have flare ups or re-injure myself."
    Ashley B.
  • "Family Practice

    Dr. Miller puts the "family" in family practice! He is an excellent doctor who always leaves me better than when I arrived. Highly recommended!"
    Freddie S.
  • "Friendly Office and Great Staff

    I have been a patient of Dr. Miller's for five years. I am always greeted with friendly smiles and courteous conversation by the staff. Dr. Miller is kind, knowledgeable, and thoughtful in our sessions. I appreciate the service and hospitality as Aspen Wellness Center. The location is central and always easy to find parking. Thank you Dr. Miller!"
    Nicole S.
  • "Children's Care

    Our four year old has been seeing Dr. Miller for the last two years to address ear infections. Jack loves coming to see "Dr. Tickles" and always feels right at home in the office. Thank you Dr. Miller for all the TLC!"
    Jack O.
  • "Sciatic Pain

    I was referred to Dr. Miller by my sister. I had severe pain in my left leg. Dr. Miller was very thorough in helping me understand the causes. He is very kind and compassionate. He recommended several treatments and exercises. In just less than a week I felt better. In addition, he has a great office staff. They are friendly and make you feel welcome and comfortable."
    Judy B
  • "Gentle Care/Long Term Results

    Dr. Miller combines gentle and thorough chiropractic care with holistic health and lots of humor. Not only do I feel authentically cared for, but I also have experienced real long term results and improved quality of life."
    Rebecca
  • "Helped Me Avoid Surgery

    Dr. Miller has kept me out of my orthopedic surgeon and pain management M.D. practices for years! He is gentle, caring and skilled."
    Susan
  • "Arthritis and Degeneration

    Over more than 17 years, I've attended sessions with Dr. Vern for back adjustments, arthritis degeneration in many joints, falling injuries and general wellness/nutrition advice. I've experienced amazing pain relief and wellness by working with Dr. Vern and not using prescription drugs to affect changes in my health. Today, at 75, I take NO drugs, and am able to control considerable arthritis pain and degeneration with periodic adjustments, food supplements and Chiropractic methods; laser, muscle stimulation, adjustments and manipulation. The body itself is a great healer when allowed to do its work."
    Martha Maxwell
  • "Dr. Miller is Caring and Professional

    I was so fortunate to find Dr. Miller. He and his staff are always friendly, caring, and professional. His gentle and attentive expertise, so rare in the medical field, makes him a joy to work with. He is committed to helping you find and applying the right chiropractic approach for your needs."
  • "A Chiropractor for the Whole Family

    Our families experience with Dr. Miller has been outstanding!!! We have three children ages 16, 20 and 25 who all go on a monthly basis to stay adjusted. Shannon, the 20 year-old had a injury her junior year that began our journey into chiropractic. We have found that Dr. Miller listens to patients regardless of age. He understands commitments ie: sports, dance, music, that might be contributing to the injury and delay treatment results. He cares about the overall health of the patient and the quality of life current and future. He takes a genuine interest in his patients as people. We appreciate Dr. Miller as our Chiropractor and friend. He is the first one our family thinks of when someone comments on discomfort or an injury. His knowledge and understanding has made a big difference for all of us."
    Laurie Harrison
  • "Auto Accident

    I met Dr Miller some 20 yrs ago due to an auto accident. I had been to several Loveland and Fort Collins chiropractors, but felt very much at home when I met Dr. Vern Miller.I see Doc Miller whenever I am having lower back or neck problems, which is the case from time to time, and I am extremely happy with his treatments and his patient-doctor connection. He is the best, don't think you can find anyone better. I highly recommend Dr. Miller and the Aspen Wellness Center for any particular joint or movement issues."
    P. Huff
  • "Wellness Care

    Dr. Miller's office is a great place for wellness care! His office is professional AND personal, treating each patient with respect and care. His staff is kind and friendly and Dr. Miller offers so much in the way of treatment. I have known Dr. Miller for several years and have benefited greatly from his care through the use of spinal adjustments, acupuncture, laser, ultrasound and massage. I would HIGHLY recommend Dr. Miller if you are looking for chiropractic care!"
  • "I am Glad I chose Dr. Miller

    I have been utilizing chiropractic for 23 years. I have been a patient of Dr. Miller's for about 5 years. I was very apprehensive about choosing a new provider when the one I had been seeing for 18 years retired. I am very glad I chose Dr. Miller. He was very thorough at my first couple of visits, which included reviewing new x-rays before he did any adjustments. I appreciate the muscle work he does prior to adjustments as it really does help. The staff is great and always works with me when I call for an appointment."
    Jena
  • "Neck and Back Pain

    My neck and back pains have troubled me for more than a decade before I turned to Dr. Miller for chiropractic help. He not only alleviated my pains but also helped me find a healthier lifestyle to avoid such pains - and others! - in the future. My daughter also received quality care from Dr. Miller and does not have problems with her neck as before. Dr. Miller's staff is friendly and welcoming, as is Dr. Miller. I feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed in his care and look forward to my visits to his office. I heartily recommend Dr. Miller and his practice to anyone who is suffering from aches and pains and wishes to find the sources of those."
  • "I was so fortunate to find Dr. Miller. He and his staff are always friendly, caring, and professional. His gentle and attentive expertise, so rare in the medical field, makes him a joy to work with. He is committed to helping you find and applying the right chiropractic approach for your needs."