Movements of the spine

Movements of the spine are possible due to intervertebral discs, and with the fulcrum of movement occurring primarily around the nucleus pulposus. Specialized motion occurs at the atlanto-occipital and atlantoaxial joints, which do not contain a disc.

The spine (vertebral column) forms the central axis of the skeleton, supports the skull, and gives attachment to the thoracic cage, pectoral girdle, and upper limb. It combines strength with great flexibility as it has many joints close together.

Flexion and extension are common to all parts of the spine; a significant degree of flexion/extension can be achieved at the atlanto-occipital joint, cervical and lumbar spine, but is restricted in the thoracic spine. Lateral flexion is free at the atlanto-occipital joint, cervical and lumbar spine, but less free in the thoracic spine. Rotation is greatest at the specialized atlantoaxial articulations, and to a lesser degree in the cervical and lumbar spine.

Movements of the spine

Atlanto-occipital joint
  • flexion
  • extension
  • lateral flexion
Atlanto-axial joint
  • rotation
Cervical spine
  • flexion
  • extension
  • lateral flexion
  • rotation
Thoracic spine
  • flexion
  • extension
  • lateral flexion
Lumbar spine
  • flexion
  • extension
  • lateral flexion
  • rotation
Share article

Article information

rID: 57008
System: Spine
Section: Anatomy
Tag: spine
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Updating… Please wait.

 Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

 Thank you for updating your details.