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Understanding Spinal Anatomy: Ligaments, Tendons and Muscles

Ligaments and tendons are fibrous bands of connective tissue that attach to bone. Ligaments connect two or more bones together and help stabilize joints. Tendons attach muscle to bone. Tendons vary in size and are somewhat elastic and attach bones to muscles.

Ligaments
The system of ligaments in the vertebral column, combined with the tendons and muscles, provides a natural brace to help protect the spine from injury. Ligaments aid in joint stability during rest and movement and help prevent injury from hyperextension and hyperflexion (excessive movements).

 

Ligament Name Description
Anterior Longitudinal Ligament (ALL)

A primary spine stabilizer

About one-inch wide, the ALL runs the entire length of the spine from the base of the skull to the sacrum. It connects the front (anterior) of the vertebral body to the front of the annulus fibrosis.
Posterior Longitudinal Ligament (PLL)

A primary spine stabilizer

About one-inch wide, the PLL runs the entire length of the spine from the base of the skull to sacrum. It connects the back (posterior) of the vertebral body to the back of the annulus fibrosis.
Supraspinous Ligament This ligament attaches the tip of each spinous process to the other.
Interspinous Ligament This thin ligament attaches to another ligament called the ligamentum flavum that runs deep into the spinal column.
Ligamentum Flavum

The strongest ligament

This yellow ligament is the strongest. It runs from the base of the skull to the pelvis, in front of and between the lamina, and protects the spinal cord and nerves. The ligamentum flavum also runs in front of the facet joint capsules.

Tendons and Muscles
Tendons are similar to ligaments, except these tension-withstanding fibrous tissues attach muscle to bone. Tendons consist of densely packed collagen fibers.

Muscles, either individually or in groups, are supported by fascia. Fascia is strong sheath-like connective tissue. The tendon that attaches muscle to bone is part of the fascia.

Muscles of the Posterior Cervical and Upper Thoracic Spine

1 Semispinalis Capitus (head rotation/pulls backward)
2 Iliocostalis Cervicis (extends cervical vertebrae)
3 Longissimus Cervicus (extends cervical vertebrae)
4 Longissimus Capitus (head rotation/pulls backward)
5 Longissimus Thoracis (extension/lateral flexion vertebral column, rib rotation)
6 Iliocostalis Thoracis (extension/lateral flexion vertebral column, rib rotation)
7 Semispinalis Thoracis (extends/rotates vertebral column)

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The muscular system of the spine is complex, with several different muscles playing important roles. The primary function of the muscles is to support and stabilize the spine. Specific muscles are associated with movement of parts of the anatomy. For example, the Sternocleidomastoid muscle (neck area) assists with movement of the head, while the Psoas Major muscle (low back area) is associated with flexion of the thigh.

The muscles in the vertebral column serve to flex, rotate, or extend the spine.

Muscle Name – Cervical Region Description
Sternocleidomastoid Head movement (extension, rotation) Vertebral column flexion

Spinalis Cervicis/Spinalis Capitus Extends and rotates the head

Iliocostalis Cervicis Extends cervical vertebrae

Longissimus Cervicis Rotates the head and pulls backward

Obliquus Capitus Superior Rotates and bends the head laterally

     

    Muscle Name – Thoracic Region Description
    Longissimus Thoracis Extension and lateral flexion of the vertebral column, rib rotation

    Iliocostalis Thoracis Extension and lateral flexion of the vertebral column, rib rotation

    Spinalis Thoracis Extends the vertebral column

       

      Muscle Name – Lumbar Region Description
      Psoas Major Flexes the thigh at the hip joint and the vertebral column

      Quadratus Lumborum Lateral flexion of the vertebral column

      Multifidus Extension and rotation of the vertebral column

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