Spinal Cord: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Spinal Cord Definition and Meaning

The spinal cord — a long and thin structure of nervous tissue — serves as the main pathway for transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of the body. It’s a critical part of the nervous system, and extends from the brain through the vertebral column, or spine

Anatomy of the Spinal Cord

The spinal cord is nested within the spinal column. It is divided into three regions: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), and lumbar (low back). Each segment is aligned with vertebrae and responsible for connecting to specific parts of the body through spinal nerves. 

Function of the Spinal Cord 

The primary function of the spinal cord is to transmit neural signals between the brain and the rest of the body. The spinal cord plays a pivotal role in sensory processing, relaying sensory information (including signals to your pain system), and conveying motor commands, which facilitate movement. The spinal cord also coordinates reflexes, which are automatic responses to certain stimuli, such as pulling away from a hot surface.

Conditions that affect the spinal cord or spinal column may arise from various causes such as trauma or age-related changes. Common musculoskeletal conditions, that usually affect peripheral nerves, include: cervical spondylosis, which involves changes in the spinal discs in the neck potentially leading to compression of the spinal cord; herniated discs, which occur when the center of one (or more) of the flat, round discs — that are located between vertebrae in the spine — pushes against its outer ring, potentially irritating the spinal cord; and spinal stenosis, which occurs when the spaces within the spinal canal narrow, resulting in nerve compression and irritation of the spinal cord. 

Severe injuries to the spinal cord, such as during traumatic injuries and car accidents, require immediate medical attention and can result in loss of function or paralysis. 

Conditions That Affect the Spine: A Hinge Health Perspective

The spine and all its structures, including the spinal cord, have a big job — not only do they provide structural support for the entire body, but they’re also responsible for the flexibility we need to move and bend and for sending critical messages all throughout the body. As a result, the spinal column is incredibly durable and resilient with built-in shock absorbers that protect the spinal cord. 

When you hear about conditions that may cause changes in the spine, it's normal to be concerned and cautious about movement. But your spine craves movement, and a physical therapist can help guide you toward exercises that make you feel comfortable and appropriately challenged.

How Physical Therapy Can Help With Spinal Cord Conditions

Physical therapy can play a role in the management and rehabilitation of some spinal cord conditions and injuries. While there are cases where physical therapy is not appropriate, if it is recommended, a physical therapist (PT) can tailor spinal exercises to enhance mobility, strength, coordination, and alleviate pain. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Harrow-Mortelliti, M., & Jimsheleishvili, G. (2020). Physiology, Spinal Cord. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544267/ 

  2. Spinal Cord Injury. (2022, July 25). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/spinal-cord-injury 

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