FAMI: Day 1 – The Back

…empowering your eyes to see beyond the obvious
Dr Jeffrey Laitman, in describing what anatomy is about


Our niece is in her second year of residency at a hospital in Lancaster, PA. After taking this four-day intensive human anatomy course at Mt Sinai, I have a whole new appreciation for the preparation that she and all doctors undergo as they learn about the human body. Each of us is a massively interrelated and complex network of systems. 

At FAMI, we had the pleasure of learning from highly experienced doctors who demystified their areas of expertise with liveliness and logic, story telling and hands-on labs. Each of the first three days followed the same format – a foundation lecture covering a specific area of anatomy, followed by a clinical perspective talk, lunch, and then a gross anatomy lab. Dr Jeffrey Laitman presented the opening foundation lecture.


I now see why taking Latin can be beneficial – so many anatomy terms derive from Latin! If you understand what a word means, it becomes much easier to figure out what body part or body location is being referenced, and as Dr Laitman repeatedly told us, understanding permits deeper learning, as opposed to just memorizing terms. (Arnold’s Glossary of Anatomy is a helpful repository of the Latin or Greek etymology and English definitions of anatomy terms.) Dr Latiman gave an overview of our anatomical system, and I was particularly intrigued to learn more about the spine. (The anatomy section of this blog provides an overview of human anatomy.)

Our vertebral column consists of vertebrae. From top to bottom there are 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 or 6 sacral, and 3 or 4 coccygeal. The vertebrae in both the sacral and coccygeal areas are fused, so they do not articulate as does the rest of the spine. When born, a child’s vertebral column is fairly straight, with just a small curvature in the thoracic area. As the child grows, the spine develops a more “S” shape curve.

The vertebral column serves to protect our spinal cord, but it also is a conduit, containing innumerable nerves that travel throughout our body. Consider this – your body has 206 bones, 639 muscles, and around 7 trillion nerves. That’s no small number of nerves!

Turns out that the spinal cord in a baby is close to full size. It does grow a little more as the baby develops into a child, but it does not keep pace with the growth of the vertebral column. (By the way, vertebral column is interchangeable with spine and backbone.) As a result, because the vertebrae extend below the spinal cord, there are a slew of nerves at the end of the spinal cord that do not hook up one-to-one with neighboring vertebrae. These nerves look somewhat like a horse’s tail and are therefore called cauda equina (yup, that’s Latin for tail and horse, respectively).

Tune in tomorrow for more about vertebrae and how nerves are born.

Additional references:


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