The cervical spine—that is, the bones in the neck—supports the head and protects the nerves that run from the brain to other parts of the body. The vertebrae in the cervical spine are numbered C1 through C7. Injuries at the C1 and C2 level are often the most devastating, but they make up a small percentage of all the spinal injuries that occur each year. We’re more likely to see people with C4 and C5 injuries.
The thoracic spine, which has 12 vertebrae numbered T1 through T12, supports the upper back and provides protection for the lungs and heart. Because the ribs are attached to the thoracic vertebrae, we sometimes see people with broken ribs, which need time to heal. In some cases, we also see people with thoracic injuries requiring surgery.
The lumbar spine, known as the lower back, has five vertebrae numbered L1 through L5. Lumbar vertebrae are responsible for supporting the torso and head. Many of the injuries we see affect the lumbar spine. These injuries cause a wide range of complications, from bladder incontinence in some people to partial paralysis in others.
The sacrum sits at the bottom of the spine. During development, five separate vertebrae fuse together to form one bone. The sacrum connects the spine to the hip bones, supports the weight of the upper body, and joins together with the iliac bones to form the pelvic girdle.
The coccyx, commonly called the tailbone, is made up of several fused vertebrae that sit at the very end of the spine. This part of the spine provides support and stability when the body is in a sitting position. Like the sacrum, the coccyx is less likely to sustain trauma than the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar portions of the spine.