Vertebrae: Definition and What It Is

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

Vertebrae Definition and Meaning

Vertebrae are the individual bones that stack on top of each other to form the vertebral column, commonly known as the spine. Together, these 24 interlocking vertebrae protect your spinal cord. They run down the middle of your back, from your head to your hips. And they serve as the main support structure for the upper body. 

In between each vertebra are discs that act as shock absorbers. Surrounding the vertebrae are many layers of big and small muscles. Ligaments hold your vertebrae together and provide support while you move, and tendons connect muscles to vertebrae. They all work together to help you bend, flex, lift, and move around.

Types of Vertebrae

Vertebrae can be categorized based on their location along the vertebral column:

  • Cervical Vertebrae: These are the seven vertebrae in the neck (known as the cervical spine), labeled C1 to C7. The first cervical vertebra (C1) is the "atlas." It supports the skull.

  • Thoracic Vertebrae: Between the cervical spine (at the neck) and the lumbar spine (in the low back), there are 12 thoracic vertebrae, labeled T1 to T12. These vertebrae make up the middle section of the spine (known as the thoracic spine) and attach to the ribs.

  • Lumbar Vertebrae: These are the five vertebrae in the low back (lumbar spine), labeled L1 to L5. They are the largest and bear the most weight.

Vertebrae: A Hinge Health Perspective

Vertebrae and the spine as a whole have a big job — not only do the vertebrae (along with the muscles that surround them) provide structural support for the entire body, they’re also responsible for the flexibility we need to move and bend in so many ways, from walking and running to lifting and twisting. As a result, vertebrae are incredibly durable and resilient thanks to the flat, round discs that are located between them. These discs act as built-in shock absorbers that usually help us manage impact and pressure without pain. 

There's a lot you can do to strengthen and stretch the structures in and around your spine, all of which need to work together to help your back function as you go about your daily activities. Movement is key — it’s what can help you maintain an upright posture and avoid back pain.

Exercises That Benefit Vertebrae

Engaging in exercises that strengthen the core and back muscles can have a positive impact on the health of your vertebrae and spine. Activities such as Pilates, yoga, physical therapy, and targeted strength training exercises like planks, bridges, and back extensions can help maintain healthy vertebrae, keeping your back supple and strong. 

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. Park, D. K. (2020, June). Spine Basics. OrthoInfo - AAOS. 

  2. Kaiser, J. T., Reddy, V., & Lugo-Pico, J. G. October 6, 2020. Anatomy, Head and Neck: Cervical Vertebrae. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. 

  3. Casiano, V., & De, N. February 20, 2023. Back Pain. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. 

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