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23 April 2014
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You are here: BBC Science > Human Body & Mind > The Body > Nervous system
Fact files

Nervous system - Spinal Cord

Function: To relay information to and from your brain

Location: Inside your backbone

Description: White cable, around 43cm long and 2cm wide

Thick bundle of nerves

Your spinal cord is a glistening white bundle of nerves, which runs from your brain down a canal in your backbone. It's roughly 40cm long and about as wide as your thumb for most of its length.

Central nervous system

Like your brain, your spinal cord is part of your central nervous system. Its main function is to relay information about what's happening inside and outside your body to and from your brain.

Peripheral nervous system

31 pairs of spinal nerves connect your spinal cord to the rest of your body. These nerves are part of your peripheral nervous system. They carry information in the form of nerve impulses from your spinal cord to the rest of your body and from your body to your spinal cord.

Depending on where the spinal nerves branch off, they supply different parts of your body:

  • Cervical region: supplies the back of your head, your neck, shoulders, arms, hands and your diaphragm
  • Thoracic region: supplies your chest and some parts of your abdomen
  • Lumbar region: supplies your lower back as well as parts of your thighs and legs
  • Sacral region: supplies your buttocks, most parts of your legs and feet, as well as your anal and genital area

Spinal cord injuries

If the spinal cord is damaged in an accident, the sections below the injury will be cut off from the circuit of information to and from your brain. This means, all nerves - and all body parts - linked to these areas of the spinal cord will also be disconnected from your brain and will stop functioning.

Well protected

To minimise the risk of such an injury, your spinal cord is well protected:

  • Three tough envelopes called meninges surround your spinal cord
  • A clear fluid, that acts as a shock-absorber, circulates in the space between your outer and middle meninge
  • Your backbone surrounds your spinal cord, the shock-absorbing fluid and the meninges

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