Pathology Spotlight – Division of the Spinal Column

The spinal cord is the nerve bundle which communicates between the brain and the rest of the body and is crucial to sensation and movement. It sits in the spinal canal, which is a cavity that runs through the vertebral or spinal column. The spinal column is a complex bony structure made up of thirty-three articulating vertebral bones whose function is to facilitate skeletal movement, provide support and to act as protection for the delicate spinal cord. Trauma to the vertebral column can result in injury to the spinal cord which in minor cases can result in loss of feeling but if severe can lead to paraplegia, paralysis of the lower limbs, or tetraplegia, paralysis of all four limbs.


This specimen is from a person who survived being hit by a coach. The spinal column should be straight but this one has a marked kink in it where the 1st lumbar vertebra has been substantially displaced from the 2nd, severing the spinal column. The loop of bristle indicates the mass of fibrous tissue produced by the body to try and ‘set’ the fracture.

spine with arrow at L1

The second figure is a diagram of the entire vertebral column showing how the vertebrae articulate with each other and an arrow indicating the first lumbar vertebrae, which is dislocated in the specimen.  This injury resulted in paraplegia, however the patient survived for 13 months before dying of an unrelated condition, probably diphtheria.

There are about 40,000 people with spinal cord injuries currently living in the UK.


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