Spinal Anatomy Explained | Virginia Spine Institute

Anatomy of the Spine

Understanding the anatomy of the spine is a fundamental basis to knowing your spinal condition and empowers you to make informed medical decisions.

Anatomical Terms & Latin Meaning

Understanding anatomy means learning a new set of language terms. Anatomy uses a set of Latin based terms that are used to describe all the structures in our body. You can find many of these terms in Our Glossary and we will cover some basic terms here.


  • Anterior – the front portion of the body; located in front of a structure
  • ​Lateral – situated away from the midline of the body
  • Anterolateral – situated or occurring in front of and to the side
  • Inferior – situated below or directed downward
  • Medial – situated closer to the midline of the body
  • Posterior – the back portion of the body; located behind a structure


  • Coronal – a plane dividing the body into anterior and posterior portions
  • Sagittal – a plane dividing the body into right and left portions
  • Transverse – a plane dividing the body into superior and inferior portions

Basic Anatomy: 

  • Articular – pertaining to a joint
  • Bone – the hard tissue that provides structural support to the body, primarily composed of hydroxyapatite crystals and collagen
  • Cartilage – a hard, thin layer of white glossy tissue that covers the end of bone at a joint allowing for motion with minimum friction
  • Collagen – a fibrous protein which is a major part of connective tissue, such as skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bones
  • Joint – the junction between two or more bones that allows varying degrees of motion
  • Ligament – a band of flexible, fibrous connective tissue attaching bones to one another
  • Spinal Cord – the long cord of nerve tissue enclosed in the spinal canal. It serves as a pathway for nervous impulses to and from the brain and is a center for executing and coordinating many reflex actions independent of the brain.
  • Tendon – the fibrous band of tissue that connects muscle to bone, mainly composed of collagen