Spine & Nerves Anatomy

When we learn new skills, the brain and nervous system can change structurally and functionally. This was not even recognized until the latter half of the 20th century, and is now called neuroplasticity. What follows are some of the main players “to have on our team”.

The body’s main control center is the brain and its tail-like extension, the spinal cord. Through NSA chiropractic, advancing the coordination of this structure develops naturally, encouraged by constant sensory and emotional feedback, guiding us in our movement, attention, and natural breathing rhythm.

The three fundamentals that allow us to participate in our healing and growth process through NSA chiropractic and its counterpart, somato-respiratory integration, are as follows:

1) Attention focused specifically somewhere through the neck, spine, or torso, which automatically directs energy behind the movement mentioned in (2).
2) Movement following this path of attention through the body.
3) Natural rhythm of respiration – a fundamental rhythm for all key events in the body that need to function in precise timing.

As we settle into the timing of our respiration, movement and attention, our ways of participating through our emotional intelligence fall into place, as well as the supporting, internal systems of circulation, nervous system communication, digestion, immunity, etc.


The spine brings an unfathomable complexity of tasks into elegant form when given its chance. What’s outlined here is more for our intellectual curiosity in opening up to the possibilities. Nonetheless, as we move thru Network Care, it becomes easier to trust our feelings for guiding us through the day, sparing us of the complications.

The spine: It is by far the most resourceful part of the body in its ability to protect against life-threatening injuries, with its high density of super-tough ligaments, muscles, and functionally overlapping joints. When this barrier is crossed through high impact injuries, the spinal cord is compromised along with critical body functions. Most famous example is when Superman actor Christopher Reeves was thrown off the horse, suspending consciousness, respiration, and control of all 4 limbs.

Over one hundred joints, and about as many muscles comprise the spine’s capacity for allowing us to oppose gravity while on the move, keeping our balance. (footnote 1) Yet, it’s far more important job is overseeing the smooth, efficient communication between brain and body.

Movements of the spine, as a centerpiece of body language, appear to express what we feel. Ever try watching a movie with the sound turned off? You might find yourself having a sense of how the plot unfolds just by watching the characters.

Let’s take a quick look at what’s under the hood. To spare you of having to learn a new vocabulary, most of the “big words” will be in parenthesis just in case you’re interested.

Interesting Facts – Some of the Other Players Working as a Team in Our Spine

The brain is made up of nerve cells that organize into a thick cord of billions of nerve fibers that make up the spinal cord. The spinal cord is like the brain’s tail, as it winds its way through the spinal canal, formed by the stacking of the donut-shaped holes in each bone (vertebra) of the spine. Like an upside down tree, with the root as the brain and the spinal cord as the trunk, the branches are formed by the 31 pairs of nerves exiting the spine. These branches exit the spinal canal through holes (intervertebral foramen), just in front of the joints (called pedicles) that limit our rotation, preventing the 180 degree rotation as was shown in the neck during the Exorcist movie. This upside down tree – brain, spinal cord, along with it’s 31 branches extending into all parts of the body, form the main control center, running everything from respiration, digestion, circulation, elimination, immune system, movement, etc., along with whatever a person can sense, feel, and coordinate.

Blood directly nourishes all parts of the body except for the brain and spinal cord. An outer, protective sheath formed by three very thin layers, called the meninges, surrounds the brain, spinal cord, and nerve roots where they exit the spine. Perhaps you’ve heard the word meningitis, which denotes inflammation of the meninges. Before blood is allowed to come in contact with brain and spinal cord, it must first be filtered through a network of blood vessels lining four cavities (called ventricles) inside the brain. Not that there are empty cavities inside the brain. These ventricles are filled with a clear, colorless fluid, called cerebral spinal fluid – blood after it’s been filtered through the blood vessels lining the cavities. The clear, colorless cerebral spinal fluid then flows between the meninges layers, nourishing the brain and spinal cord.

The spinal cord is suspended in the spinal canal, bathed in a rhythmic flow of filtered blood (cerebral spinal fluid), held in place by the outer layer of the three-layered meninges. (The outer layer of the meninges, called the dura mater, is Latin for “tough mother”, describing its tough nature.) This thin but tough layer (dura mater) anchors the spinal cord to the skull as well as several upper and lower bones of the spine. The inner-most layer of the meninges (called pia mater) attaches directly to the brain and spinal cord.

All three layers of the meninges is part of a vast network of what’s called connective tissue. To help visualize the nature of connective tissue, think of the pith, the “white stuff” on the inside of an orange or grapefruit peel, along with the finer wrappings of white film encapsulating the pockets of juice. A matrix of connective tissue not only runs throughout all the body’s main systems – circulation, nervous system, musculoskeletal, digestion. It also extends into every cell of the body.

In the body, this matrix of connective tissue transmits all mechanical impulses – from movement, compression, stretch, or tension – from one cell to every other cell. The mechanical impulses can be from one’s own movement as well as from the touch of a practitioner. Simultaneously, such mechanical impulses generate electrical signals which are also transmitted from one cell to every other cell. Through this matrix of connective tissue, every cell in the body is in direct and constant communication with every other cell – instantaneously. (footnote 2)

Additionally, everything that happens in any cell – from the movement of an atom to nutrients entering or leaving, or cells being mechanically compressed – has its unique signature of fluctuations in the electro-magnetic field. As with all fields, the electro-magnetic extends into infinite space. The electro-magnetic field allows whatever is being related to inside the body to also be related to outside the body.

The strength (amplitude) of all fluctuations in the electro-magnetic field gets weaker with distance, yet never gets to absolute zero strength at any distance. Hence, these fluctuations actually extend throughout the universe. This has provided a foundation for scientifically exploring how animals and humans sometimes seem to know something about events beyond the ordinary five senses. (footnote 3)

The human brain has been described as having a consistency similar to soft gelatin. It turns out, the tail like extension of the brain, the spinal cord, has been found to have a low viscosity when removed from its outer covering (the dura mater of the meninges).

All movements of the torso require dynamic changes in stresses and strains along all parts of the spine. Such movements include breathing, with the expansion-contraction of the diaphragm and rib cage. Even the single act of breathing would have to require all cells along the spine to be stretched, compressed, or deformed, which in turn generate communication signals for every other cell to relate to.

As a person’s spine goes into different postural distortions, the spinal cord will lengthen or shorten, and deform, with flexion posture causing the most strain on nerve tissue. (footnote 4)


Here is a list of the above players which intimately interact with each other:

• Nerve signals through central nervous system – brain and spinal cord.
• The brain and spinal cords protective covering – the meninges.
• All events in every cell, through the electro-magnetic field and connective tissue matrix.
• Mechanical tension in spinal muscles, joints, and nerves – down to the cellular level.
• The breathing rhythm, involving expansion and contraction of diaphragm and rib cage, in coordination with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.
• The filtered blood for brain and spinal cord – cerebral spinal fluid, which has its own rhythm of movement throughout the spinal canal.
• All movements of spine and torso.
• Emotional expression mediated through changes in posture.

All of the above players, and others, intricately interact with each other in the body’s ability to regulate itself, to adapt to life’s events. Owing to the complexity of the central nervous system – brain and spinal cord – there is much that is yet to be understood. Nonetheless, all indicators – from scientifically surveyed reported experiences to the most recent discoveries, point to a flexible, adaptable spine for optimum functioning for what, according to Grey’s Anatomy, is the master control system for the body.

Here, you can view some of the anatomy covered above:

Or, for what the muscles and spinal cord actually look like on a cadaver, click here.
NSA chiropractic care is arguably the most effective, direct means of advancing our capacity to adapt to the stresses of the 21st century. A deepening sense of ease permeates one’s life as more options visibly open for the flexible functioning of muscles, joints, nerves, and emotions.

Notes and References:

1 This approximation, of over one hundred joints comprising the spine’s capacity for allowing us to oppose gravity while on the move, admittedly requires that we count two joints for each of the twelve ribs articulating with the spine, as well as the sutured joints of the cranium. All such joints, and others, are directly involved with the mechanical and communication aspects of the spinal column.
2 Until recently, connective tissue always referred to one of four major tissues of the body. The other three being epithelial, muscle, and nervous tissue. More recently, the cytoskeleton of the cell itself is being understood as extending the properties of connective tissue into the cellular level, even where the cells are from epithelial, muscle, or nervous tissue.
3 “Energy Medicine – the Scientific Basis” by James L. Oschman. The research outlined in this book requires a synthesis of both physics and biology, usually taught as separate disciplines.
4 Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, Volume 22, Number 5, June 1999 “A Review of Biomechanics of the Central Nervous System — Part II: Spinal cord Strains from Postural Loads”. Statements regarding spinal cord distortion related to movement and posture made by my chiropractic colleagues often use the research of Alf Breig as the most prominent reference. This review of the literature makes much use of the work of many other researchers as well, which is fortunate, since Alf Brieg’s books are currently out of print.