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Difference Between Spinal Cord and Backbone

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Spinal Cord and Backbone

The spinal cord is a long, delicate structure of a tube that starts at the end of the stem of the brain and goes down almost to the bottom of the spine. Nerves that carry incoming and outgoing signals between the brain and the rest of the body consist of the spinal cord. For reflexes, such as the knee jerk reflex, it is also the centre. Three layers of tissue protect the spinal cord, like the brain (meninges). In the spinal canal, which runs along the middle of the spine, the spinal cord and meninges are located. The spine is composed of 33 individual backbones in most adults (vertebrae). Much like the skull covers the brain, the spinal cord is covered by vertebrae.

Disks made of cartilage, which serve as cushions, separate the vertebrae, minimizing the forces produced by movements such as walking and jumping. The cartilage vertebrae and discs stretch the length of the spine and form the vertebral column together, often referred to as the spinal column.The spinal cord, like the brain, consists of gray and white matter. The cord's butterfly-shaped core is made of gray matter. There are motor nerve cells (neurons) in the front wings (also called horns) that relay information from the brain or spinal cord to muscles, stimulating movement. Sensory nerve cells include the back horns, which relay sensory information to the brain from other parts of the body via the spinal cord. The surrounding white matter comprises columns of nerve fibres from the rest of the body (ascending tracts) that carry sensory input to the brain and columns that carry motor impulses from the brain to the muscles (descending tracts).

Organization of the Spine

The spine is made up of a column of bones called vertebrae (spinal column). The spinal cord, a long, fragile structure contained in the spinal canal which runs through the centre of the spine, is protected by the vertebrae. Disks made up of cartilage are between the vertebrae, which help cushion the spine and give it some flexibility.Three layers of tissue protect the spinal cord, like the brain (meninges).

1. Spinal Nerves:

There are 31 spinal nerve pairs arising from the spinal cord between the vertebrae. Two short branches (roots) emerge from each nerve: One at the front of the spinal cord (motor or anterior root) The one at the back of the spinal cord (sensory or posterior root)The motor roots carry commands, particularly skeletal muscles, from the brain and spinal cord to other parts of the body. The sensorial roots bring information from other parts of the body to the brain.

2. Cauda Equina: 

About three-fourths of the way down the spine, the spinal cord stops, but a bundle of nerves stretches beyond the cord. This bundle, since it resembles the tail of a horse, is called the cauda equina. Nerve impulses are carried by the cauda equina to and from the legs.

3. Spinal Cord Tracts

The white matter in the spinal cord consists of ascending and descending tracts. 

  • The ascending tracts are responsible for transmitting the sensory information from the sensory receptors to the Central Nervous System. It emerges from the dorsal ganglion. The dorsal and the ventral spinocerebellar tracts are responsible for carrying the unconscious proprioception information from joints and muscles to the lower part of the cerebellum. There are four essential parts in the ventral column, which are as follows –

  1. The Paleospinothalamic Tract: This is the anterior spinothalamic tract that carries the touch, pain, temperature, and information to the brain stem nuclei and to the diencephalon

  2. The Spine Olivary Tract: This is responsible for carrying the information from the Golgi tendon organs to the cerebellum. 

  3. The spinoreticular tract and the spinotectal part are both responsible for carrying pain information to the brainstem and diencephalon. They are present in the grey matter and are intersegmental nerve fibres. 

  • The Descending tracts originate from brain stem nuclei and several cortical areas. They are responsible to carry several motor activities information such as posture,  tone of the muscle, balance of the body, visceral and somatic activities. The corticospinal tract and the Rubrospinal tract that are present in the lateral column are responsible for carrying information related to voluntary movements. 

  1. The reticulospinal tract acts as a motor neuron that has a primary function of lowering down the activity in the spinal cord and without this pathway, it is observed to have increased extensor tone. 

  2. The vestibulospinal tract originates from the medulla and receives very limited inputs from the cortical areas. It plays a role in the control of balance and posture. 

  3. The rubrospinal tract originates from the red nucleus in the brain. It works towards the common structure and distal motor control. 

  4. Lissauer's tract is responsible for regulating pain sensation at the spinal level.

4. Dorsal Root:

The information by the joints, skin, and skeletal muscles are transmitted to the spinal cord by the sensory cells present in the dorsal root ganglia. The medial division of the dorsal root consists of myelinated axons that are responsible for conducting sensory fibres from the skin and the later division consists of the unmyelinated axons carrying pain and temperature.   

5. Spinal Arteries:

The arteries that run vertically down the spinal cord and rise from the vertebral artery are known as the spinal arteries. There are several branches of other arteries along with several numbers of anastomoses of the spinal arteries that make up a vasocorona around the spinal cord. The dorsal column sensory is maintained even when the anterior spinal artery results in loss of power and spinothalamic sensory deficit. 

6. Autonomic Pathways 

They consist of the autonomic nerves that are carried by the spinal cord. Sympathetic nerves have an exit outlet through the thoracolumbar spinal cord whereas the parasympathetic nerves exit the vertebral canal through the sacral spinal control. However, some of these nerve fibres are carried within cranial nerves and remain unaffected even through a spinal cord injury. 


Backbone is another name that the vertebral column is used to identify. A flexible column that runs from the neck to the tail of the vertebrate body is the vertebral column. The primary characteristic used to distinguish vertebrates from other chordates is usually the presence of a vertebral column.A notochord is usually formed by chordates; this notochord can be identified only during embryonic development in vertebrates. Later, it grows into the vertebral column. In addition, the vertebral column consists of a series of vertebrae grouped as cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal vertebrae and is a bony structure.

Humans have a backbone of 33 vertebrae. In addition, housing the spinal canal is the main feature of the vertebral column or backbone; the spinal cord extends from head to tail within this canal. It also provides the spinal cord with protection and provides sites for the nerves to emerge from the spinal cord. The spinal cord is basically one of the two components of the central nervous system, while the brain is the second component. Here, the backbone provides muscles such as pectoral and pelvic girdles and many muscles for attachment sites. In addition, when standing and walking, the backbone transmits body weight into the pelvis.

What is the Difference Between Spinal Cord and Backbone?

The key distinction between the backbone and the spine is that the more informal term for the vertebral column is the backbone, whereas the more formal term is the spine.

Spinal Cord



Consisting of bundles of nerve fibres.

The backbone consists of bones known as vertebrae.


The spinal cord serves as a means of contact between the body and the brain. 

The backbone helps to provide structural assistance as well as carry the weight of the body. It is also charged with spinal cord security.


31 segments are formed by the spinal cord, divided into 8 cervical nerves, 5 lumbar nerves, 1 coccygeal nerve, 12 thoracic nerves, and 5 sacral nerves.

The backbone of the cervical spine, the thoracic spine and the lumbar spine, sacrum and coccyx can be divided into 5 main parts. There are 7 bones called vertebrae in the cervical spine. There are 12 vertebrae of the thoracic spine and five vertebrae of the lumbar spine.


Functions of Backbone

The following are the functions of the backbone –

  1. The backbone acts as a protection of the spinal cord and its nerve roots against any damage. 

  2. It is responsible for the attachment of various muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the back of the body. 

  3. It helps in flexible movements of the body, such as bending forward, left, and right. 

  4. The vertebrae are essential for storing nutrients and lipids as it also produces white and red blood cells

Kinds and Numbers of Vertebrae in the Body 

The different kinds of vertebrae in the vertebral column and are as follows – 

  1. Atlas is the first cervical vertebrae and there are seven cervical vertebrae in the neck region.

  2. Next comes the thoracic vertebrae that are twelve in number connecting to the upper back and ribs on either of the sides. 

  3. The vertebrae on the lower back are known as the lumbar vertebrae and they are five in number. They are responsible for maintaining the body’s weight and they are the largest and cause common back problems. 

  4. The vertebrae are present in the small back and make of the sacrum. They form a triangle after the age of 26.

  5. The lowermost region of the vertebral column that merges with the hip bones. It consists of 3-5 vertebrates, also known as the tailbone.


The more casual word to define the vertebral column, which is the vertebrate body's most distinctive characteristic, is the backbone. It consists of a series of vertebrae which are divided by intervertebral discs. The spine is the more formal term used to define the vertebral column, on the other hand. The only difference between the backbone and the spine is, therefore, the use of the term.

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FAQs on Difference Between Spinal Cord and Backbone

1. What Does a Spinal Disc Mean?

The soft pad located between each of the vertebrae of the spine is a disk. As a spacer, shock absorber, and part of the cartilaginous joints that allow movement in the spine, the vertebral disc works. Compression and other stresses can be withstood by the disc, thus allowing a great deal of motion and versatility. Two components consist of intervertebral discs - a strong outer part (annulus fibrosus) and a softer inner centre (nucleus pulposus). Like two concentric cylinders, the annulus fibrosus and the nucleus pulposus fit together and the configuration can be represented as a jelly doughnut. The spinal column comprises a total of twenty-three vertebral discs.

2. How Many Vertebrae are there that Make Up the Spine?

The average person is born with 33 individual bones. By the time an individual becomes an adult, most of the individuals are left with only 24 vertebrae, as during normal growth and development, some vertebrae at the lower end of the spine get fused together.

A sacrum is considered the bottom of the spine. It is composed of multiple vertebral bodies that are normally united as one. The remaining tiny bones or ossicles are also fused together below the sacrum and are called the tailbone or coccyx. Above the sacrum, the spine consists of:

  • In the body, seven bones - the cervical spine. 

  • In the chest, 12 bones - the thoracic spine. 

  • In the lower back, five bones - the lumbar spine.