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How Many Cervical Vertebrae Do You Have?
I recently received an email from a yoga teacher buddy asking how many vertebrae we have in our spines, specifically how many cervical vertebrae. “Is it seven or eight?” This may clear things up.
How Many Cervical Vertebrae Do We Have?
The easiest way to remember the number of vertebrae in a normal spine is to remember your meal times. Start with breakfast at 7, have lunch at 12, and then an early dinner at 5. Starting from the top of your spine, you have seven cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, and five lumbar vertebrae. The cervical vertebrae are in your neck region, the thoracic in your chest region, and the lumbar are in your low back.
These vertebrae are named by the first letter of their regions and their numbers. For example, the third cervical vertebra (counting from the top down) would be C3, and the second lumbar vertebra would be L2, and so on.
Adding that up... 7+12+5=24! But wait! If you look up how many vertebrae we have, everything says 33! How can that be? The answer is in your sacrum and coccyx (tailbone). The sacrum is actually made of five fused vertebrae, and your coccyx is made of four. So altogether, we have 33 vertebrae.
So What the Heck is C8?
The confusion about the mysterious eighth cervical vertebra comes from the very similar or same naming of the spinal nerves. All your vertebrae stack on each other to form your spine, and inside your spine is your spinal cord, carrying information into or out of your brain.
At each vertebral level, spinal nerves send information to your arms, legs, organs, etc. They also bring information back in. These nerves are also named the same way, by region and number. Even though there are only seven cervical vertebrae, there are eight cervical spinal cord segments and spinal nerves. This is where we get the C8. I’ve always thought that they should have found a better way to name this, but it is what it is. So we have to live with it! Remember, when talking about C4, T5, L5, or whatever level, we can discuss the vertebra or spinal nerve. I hope that clears things up!
A Word About the Cervical Vertebrae and How to Keep them Happy in Yoga Practice
The cervical vertebrae are by far the smallest and most delicate among the mobile vertebrae of the spine. They are also the most vulnerable compared to the rest of the spine. The surrounding structures—neck muscles and throat anatomy—are minimal compared to the rib cage that protects the thoracic spine from too much mobility.
In yoga practice, we often overuse and overstretch the neck to move further into a pose. This would include the tendency to look upward in poses such as Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) and Side-Angle Pose (Parsvakonasana). If you want to avoid neck pain in your yoga practice, staying well inside your comfort zone when rotating, extending, flexing, and lateral bending your neck can be helpful. This means not moving the neck to the edge, where you can’t go any further. Stay at least 10 percent inside that edge. Your neck will thank you for it!
Reprinted with permission from Dr. Nolan Lee and Balancedflow.today
Dr. Nolan Lee is a yoga teacher and physical rehab specialist in Chicago, IL, with an extraordinary passion for understanding how the body moves and functions. Nolan has the unique ability to blend the science of anatomy with the art of yoga. With an active practice at this clinic, Balanced Flow Wellness, he practically applies yoga to restore and maintain health. Dr. Lee also holds a Master of Acupuncture degree and is a NASM-certified corrective exercise specialist (CES). He enthusiastically shares his knowledge of yoga and anatomy in lectures, workshops, and on his blog.