Ossification centres of the vertebral column

Dr Henry Knipe et al.

Ossification of the vertebral column is complex but an overview of primary and secondary ossification centres is given below:

Primary ossification centres

The C3-L5 vertebrae typically have three primary ossification centres that start appearing at 9 weeks in utero and finish primary ossification by one year 1-4:

  • one in the centrum (for most of the vertebral body)
  • one for each half of the neural arch (two in total)

There are some differences for C1 and C2 1-3:

  • C1 (atlas): three primary ossification centres in total
    • one for the anterior arch
    • two for the each side of the posterior arch
  • C2 (axis): five primary ossification centres in total
    • as for a typical vertebrae but has two extra primary ossification centre for the dens (odontoid process)

The primary ossification centres first appear at the cervicothoracic junction at 9 weeks in utero and are followed by upper cervical then thoracolumbar vertebrae with the primary ossification centres of the lumbar neural arches the last to appear at approximately 14 weeks in utero 3

Secondary ossification centres

For the C3-L5 vertebrae there are five secondary ossification centres that appear at puberty and fuse by 25-30 years 1-4:

  • one at the tip of the spinous process
  • one at the tip of each transverse process (two in total)
  • one as ring (or annular) epiphyses at the upper and lower surfaces of the vertebral bodies (two in total)

C1 and C2 are atypical in that they have some additional or no secondary ossification centres:

  • C1: no secondary ossification centres
  • C2 (axis)
Anatomy: Spine
Share article

Article information

rID: 24695
Section: Anatomy
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Vertebral column ossification

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Updating… Please wait.

Alert accept

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

Alert accept Thank you for updating your details.