How the human spine works with the brain

How the human spine works with the brain

by Spc. Colene Copeland
Stripes Okinawa

Editor’s note: At Stripes Okinawa, we love to share your stories and share this space with our community members. Here is an article written by Spc. Colene Copeland from U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria. If you have a story or photos to share, let us know at


Some readers might know that orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery cross paths in many ways. Because of the connection between orthopedics and neurosurgery, it is very important to understand the way the human brain works with the human spine, as the human spinal cord is in many ways basically an extension of the brain because of the information carried from the brain down the human spine to control the body. The main job of the spinal cord is to be the communication system throughout our body. Each nerve has a specific job for movement and feeling in our body. The neck part of the spinal cord which is called the cervical spine is made up of seven different bones. Below the neck portion of the spine is what we call the thoracic spine which is made up of 12 different vertebrae bones which all connect to the lungs. Below the thoracic spine, is the lumbar spine which, for many people, is a site of pain. Next down, the sacrum is made up of a collection of bones which are integral to the pelvis. Unlike the vertebrae above it, the sacrum is fused together. Below the sacrum, the coccyx, or tailbone, also has fused vertebrae.

In total, the spinal cord has a total of 33 vertebrae. At the center of each, there is a small hole called a spinal canal. This area is important because it houses spinal cord fluid protected by a sack-like membrane. Information travels from the brain down the spinal cord through the spinal cord fluid telling the body how to move and function throughout the day.

The human brain controls the whole human body. The human nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord. In the womb, the spinal cord is actually attached to the human brain more closely than it is when we develop outside the womb. The ventricles in the human brain actually have spinal fluid inside our brains. This is how and why the brain and spinal cord work together.

Since the human brain is connected to the spinal cord and with the spinal fluid, if someone suffers a spinal cord injury, it can create physical and cognitive problems. Severe spinal cord injuries can lead to nerve cell loss in the brain, thus can cause inflammation and changes in behavior and mental health. In the worse case scenario, spinal cord injuries can cause quadriplegia or other physical loss. The brain controls the whole human body, so if there is an interruption, it can cause a severe loss of functionality.

The disease scoliosis is a different example of a brain and body disconnection. One can be born with scoliosis which is a curvature of the spine that usually goes side to side. This can cause compromised breathing as the curvature can compress the lungs and ribcage. In the 20th century, some polio patients developed scoliosis. In the absolute worse cases of scoliosis, a slow death can occur from compromised circulation and breathing. The chiropractor, back braces and certain surgical procedures can help ease the pain of scoliosis and fix some of the issues associated. Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are examples of the cognitive effects when the brain and body suffer from a disconnection.

Our spinal cord plays a vital role in our bodies. Although there are genetics and sometimes-incontrollable factors involved with many diseases and illnesses, it is important to keep your mind and body active. Exercise, reading, crafting are just a few great ways to do so.


Spc. Colene Copeland with U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria. She is pre-med studying Forensic Medicine, Space and Aviation and Engineering. Spc. Copeland is working towards becoming an orthopedic trauma surgeon focused on the musculoskeletal and joint system. Follow along as she writes about interesting bones in both humans and animals, dives into space medicine, forensic science, engineering, healthcare and medical topics.

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