What are the Lumbar Vertebrae?

B. Schreiber

The lumbar vertebrae are a group of five individual bones of the spinal column. Together they form the lumbar region, which is one of five different regions in the vertebral column or backbone. They make up the inward-curving portion of the spine in what is commonly called the small of the back. The entire adult spinal column is composed of 26 individual bones, called vertebra when singular, and vertebrae when plural. The lumbar vertebrae are more robust than the vertebrae of the other regions, as they are responsible for bearing the weight of the body above them, and anything held or carried.

Lumbar vertebrae are more robust than the vertebrae in other places.
Lumbar vertebrae are more robust than the vertebrae in other places.

The lumbar vertebrae share the basic characteristics of all vertebrae. These include the body, a flat, disk-like part of the bone that faces the front of the torso. Behind the body there is a hole called the vertebral foramen, through which the spinal cord passes, and which is enclosed by the vertebral arch. Two pedicles join the arch with the body, which are opposite two individual lamina on the vertebral arch. The vertebral arch also has three processes, in this case three small projections, to which muscles are attached. Two projections above and below each side of the arch, called the superior and inferior articular processes, form joints with the two nearest vertebrae.

Chronic lower back pain is often caused by issues with the lumbar vertebrae.
Chronic lower back pain is often caused by issues with the lumbar vertebrae.

As the lumbar vertebrae bear more stress than other vertebral regions, they have some unique characteristics that allow them to support the trunk of the body. The bodies of the lumbar vertebrae, which are the weight bearing portions of all vertebrae, are broader and larger than bodies in other regions. The three projecting processes are short and blunt to allow for the attachment of large, strong muscles. The articular processes also face different directions, providing more stability in the lumbar region by limiting the range of rotation.

Chiropractic manipulation may help treat problems caused by misaligned vertebrae.
Chiropractic manipulation may help treat problems caused by misaligned vertebrae.

The lumbar vertebrae are labeled similarly to other vertebrae in the spinal column. They are designated by a letter, in this case L for lumbar, and a number based on their order in the column. The lumbar vertebra nearest the head is termed L1, proceeding in descending order to the lowest, L5.

To identify the lumbar vertebrae as individual bones, one must know how they differ from the vertebrae of the two regions above them, called the cervical and thoracic regions. Cervical vertebrae have two holes in the arch, and thoracic vertebrae have facets where the ribs are attached. Lumbar vertebrae have neither characteristic, and their larger, thicker bodies are also identifying markers.

Lumbar vertebrae are responsible for supporting the trunk of the body.
Lumbar vertebrae are responsible for supporting the trunk of the body.

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Discussion Comments


Many years ago, it was pretty standard for patients with herniated discs, especially in the lumbar region, to have surgery to fuse vertebrae together. My mother had this surgery after having terrible backaches.

Nowadays, the thinking seems to be different. Many doctors take the conservative approach. My son is very active in sports and his herniated disc in the lumbar really gives him a lot of pain at times.

His doctor tells him to lose some weight, and warm up good before sports activity.

When he has a flare-up, he rests in bed for a couple of days,and ices the area. And if it gets really bad, he takes pain medicine and goes to a physical therapist.


I wonder how humans came about to have so many problems with their backs. When our ancestors started getting up on their two legs and walking, I wonder if they got back aches? Maybe their lumbar spine and the entire spine were supported by more muscles.

Maybe, as our human ancestors became lighter weight and taller, started carrying heavy stuff around, and started slouching, their lumbar spine vertebrae didn't adapt.


@tolleranza - I have good news for the lumbar vertebrae fracture treatment as well!

In the past there was not much else for doctors to do for such a fracture except bracing the back and prescribing rest, so I imagine you were right about not moving for people in the past that suffered from this type of lumbar vertebrae pain.

However, now surgery and other medical procedures such as @Tomislav discussed for a herniated lumbar disc can be applied to this injury.

An interesting thing about the lumbar vertebrae is that they can be fractured without any obvious trauma, and the leading cause of this is osteoporosis in women who are postmenopausal.

So keep drinking that milk and eating that yogurt women!


@tolleranza - Treatment for such an injury as a herniated lumbar disc (another way to say slipped disc) is very individual. Some of the options based on the individual person are to go to a month or so of physical therapy or try medicines to help whether injected or taken orally.

Now if the pain is severe and continues to be severe then surgery can be considered. But the good news is many people's difficulty with a slipped disc in their lumbar spine is that the pain can be resolved non-surgically.

But as far as not moving secondary to the herniated disc, I would assume that would be based on what the doctor's and physical therapist think, but that seems unlikely unless it was atypically severe that you would not be able to move.


I was not sure which were the lumbar vertebrae but I had a good guess because I wondered if they were the part of the lower back because that is where the lumbar pillows that are sold as decorative pillows sit against your back, and I was right!

These lumbar vertebrae have an important job considering they support our trunk! If you were to have a lumbar vertebrae injury, such as a slipped lumbar disc or lumbar vertebrae fracture, would you have to move very little if at all?

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