Difference Between Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar Vertebra

The backbone or spine runs from the skull to the pelvis. Typically, the column comprises 26 bones protecting the spinal cord. The spinal column renders support and enables one to bend, stand upright and twist. The vertebrae are classified into sections – cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum, and coccyx. The biggest difference between the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae lies in their location.

From where the skull starts, the cervical vertebrae constitute the first seven vertebrae. These are the light, small vertebrae found at the neck. The next 12 vertebrae, which are seen from the neck down to the mid-back, form the thoracic spine, each of which forms a joint with the 12 pairs of ribs. The lower five vertebrae from the ribs to the sacrum constitute the lumbar spine. They form the largest vertebrae in the spine.

Cervical Vertebra

  • The cervical spine is mainly involved in supporting the weight of the head
  • Numbered C1 to C7, there are seven cervical vertebrae
  • Due to two specialised vertebrae connecting the skull, the neck has the greatest motion
  • C1 (the first vertebra) is the ring-shaped atlas connecting directly to the skull; the joint enables motion of the head
  • C2 (the second vertebra) is the peg-shaped axis having a projection – odontoid. The joint enables the sideways movement of the head

Thoracic Vertebra

  • The main role of the thoracic spine is to bear the rib cage, safeguarding the lungs and heart
  • The thoracic vertebrae are twelve in number, T1 to T12
  • The movement of the thoracic spine is restricted

Lumbar Vertebra

  • This section is mainly involved in bearing the body’s weight
  • The lower back has 5 lumbar vertebrae, L1 to L5
  • They form the large vertebrae taking in the strain of carrying and lifting heavier objects

Key Differences between Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar Vertebra

The table below depicts the differences between Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar Vertebra.

Cervical Vertebra

Thoracic Vertebra

Lumbar Vertebra


In the neck area, just below the skull

Bears the rib cage

Constitutes the spine in the lower back

Region associated with


Mid back

Low back

Number of vertebrae




Numbered as

C1 to C7

T1 to T12

L1 to L5


Forms the smallest vertebrae

Smaller than lumbar, larger than cervical vertebrae

Forms the largest vertebrae



Heart-shaped comprising costal facets


Shape of vertebral foramen



Triangular (flattened)

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