How Many Thoracic Vertebrae Are There?

June 05, 2019

Image illustrating a woman's spine
Kyleigh Roessner RN-BSN

Your spine is made up of three sets of vertebrae, as well as the sacrum and coccyx. Each individual vertebra serves a different function in protecting your spinal cord, protecting vital organs and allowing for your body to move and flex. So, how many thoracic vertebrae are there? Learning about these groups of vertebrae will help you protect them and keep them healthy.

How Many Thoracic Vertebrae Do Humans Have?

Your spine begins at the base of the skull with seven cervical vertebrae, then transitions to 12 thoracic vertebrae, five thick lumbar vertebrae, the sacrum and then ends with the coccyx, or tailbone. Each bony vertebra has a large hole or a foramen that the spinal cord runs through, as well as smaller foramen that smaller nerve bundles run through to provide sensation to different parts of the body.

The thoracic vertebrae are so named because they make up the thorax, or the chest cavity, and each vertebra connects with a rib on each side. They are also designated by a number that increases as you get lower on the spine, from T1, the first thoracic vertebra closest to the neck, all the way down to T12, which is right above the lumbar. The simple answer to the question "how many thoracic vertebrae do humans have?" is 12. But behind that number is a complex and vital role in your body's functioning.

Role of the Thoracic Vertebrae

The primary role of the thoracic vertebrae, besides protecting the spinal cord that runs through it, is to provide protection for the vital organs of the chest, the heart and lungs. The joints between the ribs and each vertebra are specially designed to allow for the expansion of the chest so you can inhale and exhale. Every time you take a deep breath, there is a gentle flex in these joints, making it possible for you to enjoy your yoga or deep meditation.

They also provide an important structural element to the body, with a gentle "C" shape curve, which ultimately allows human beings to stand upright, along with the other vertebrae in the spine.

As you travel down the spine, the vertebrae tend to get thicker and wider, as they bear more of the weight of the body. The same is true of the 12 thoracic vertebrae, which transition from looking more like the vertebrae of the neck to looking very similar to a lumbar vertebra.

Protecting the Thoracic Vertebrae

While more detailed information can be found in this article about protecting the thoracic vertebrae, we want to focus on how best to protect your thoracic vertebrae while in your workspace.

Using good body mechanics is essential. Properly reaching and lifting is important because the thoracic vertebrae are the least flexible when it comes to extension and flexion. Over-twisting or twisting while carrying something heavy can also result in an injury to this area of the spine.

Creating an ergonomic workplace can help you protect your whole spine and reduce the likelihood of injury and pain.

So, how many thoracic vertebrae are there? Twelve amazing thoracic vertebrae that protect our hearts and lungs and make it possible to breathe deeply, and live our lives to the fullest.

Sign Up to Receive Our Newsletter & Get the Best Ergonomic Tips