Reference > Anatomy of the Human Body > II. Osteology > 3a. 4. The Sacral and Coccygeal Vertebræ
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Henry Gray (1821–1865).  Anatomy of the Human Body.  1918.
 
3a. 4. The Sacral and Coccygeal Vertebræ
 
The sacral and coccygeal vertebræ consist at an early period of life of nine separate segments which are united in the adult, so as to form two bones, five entering into the formation of the sacrum, four into that of the coccyx. Sometimes the coccyx consists of five bones; occasionally the number is reduced to three.   1
 
The Sacrum (os sacrum).—The sacrum is a large, triangular bone, situated in the lower part of the vertebral column and at the upper and back part of the pelvic cavity, where it is inserted like a wedge between the two hip bones; its upper part or base articulates with the last lumbar vertebra, its apex with the coccyx. It is curved upon itself and placed very obliquely, its base projecting forward and forming the prominent sacrovertebral angle when articulated with the last lumbar vertebra; its central part is projected backward, so as to give increased capacity to the pelvic cavity.   2
 
Pelvic Surface (facies pelvina).—The pelvic surface (Fig. 95) is concave from above downward, and slightly so from side to side. Its middle part is crossed by four transverse ridges, the positions of which correspond with the original planes of separation between the five segments of the bone. The portions of bone intervening between the ridges are the bodies of the sacral vertebræ. The body of the first segment is of large size, and in form resembles that of a lumbar vertebra; the succeeding ones diminish from above downward, are flattened from before backward, and curved so as to accommodate themselves to the form of the sacrum, being concave in front, convex behind. At the ends of the ridges are seen the anterior sacral foramina, four in number on either side, somewhat rounded in form, diminishing in size from above downward, and directed lateralward and forward; they give exit to the anterior divisions of the sacral nerves and entrance to the lateral sacral arteries. Lateral to these foramina are the lateral parts of the sacrum, each consisting of five separate segments at an early period of life; in the adult, these are blended with the bodies and with each other. Each lateral part is traversed by four broad, shallow grooves, which lodge the anterior divisions of the sacral nerves, and are separated by prominent ridges of bone which give origin to the Piriformis muscle.   3
  If a sagittal section be made through the center of the sacrum (Fig. 99), the bodies are seen to be united at their circumferences by bone, wide intervals being left centrally, which, in the fresh state, are filled by the intervertebral fibrocartilages. In some bones this union is more complete between the lower than the upper segments.   4


FIG. 95– Sacrum, pelvic surface. (See enlarged image)
 
 
Dorsal Surface (facies dorsalis).—The dorsal surface (Fig. 96) is convex and narrower than the pelvic. In the middle line it displays a crest, the middle sacral crest, surmounted by three or four tubercles, the rudimentary spinous processes of the upper three or four sacral vertebræ. On either side of the middle sacral crest is a shallow groove, the sacral groove, which gives origin to the Multifidus, the floor of the groove being formed by the united laminæ of the corresponding vertebræ. The laminæ of the fifth sacral vertebra, and sometimes those of the fourth, fail to meet behind, and thus a hiatus or deficiency occurs in the posterior wall of the sacral canal. On the lateral aspect of the sacral groove is a linear series of tubercles produced by the fusion of the articular processes which together form the indistinct sacral articular crests. The articular processes of the first sacral vertebra are large and oval in shape; their facets are concave from side to side, look backward and medialward, and articulate with the facets on the inferior processes of the fifth lumbar vertebra. The tubercles which represent the inferior articular processes of the fifth sacral vertebra are prolonged downward as rounded processes, which are named the sacral cornua, and are connected to the cornua of the coccyx. Lateral to the articular processes are the four posterior sacral foramina; they are smaller in size and less regular in form than the anterior, and transmit the posterior divisions of the sacral nerves. On the lateral side of the posterior sacral foramina is a series of tubercles, which represent the transverse processes of the sacral vertebræ, and form the lateral crests of the sacrum. The transverse tubercles of the first sacral vertebra are large and very distinct; they, together with the transverse tubercles of the second vertebra, give attachment to the horizontal parts of the posterior sacroiliac ligaments; those of the third vertebra give attachment to the oblique fasciculi of the posterior sacroiliac ligaments; and those of the fourth and fifth to the sacrotuberous ligaments.   5


FIG. 96– Sacrum, dorsal surface. (See enlarged image)
 
 
Lateral Surface.—The lateral surface is broad above, but narrowed into a thin edge below. The upper half presents in front an ear-shaped surface, the auricular surface, covered with cartilage in the fresh state, for articulation with the ilium. Behind it is a rough surface, the sacral tuberosity, on which are three deep and uneven impressions, for the attachment of the posterior sacroiliac ligament. The lower half is thin, and ends in a projection called the inferior lateral angle; medial to this angle is a notch, which is converted into a foramen by the transverse process of the first piece of the coccyx, and transmits the anterior division of the fifth sacral nerve. The thin lower half of the lateral surface gives attachment to the sacrotuberous and sacrospinous ligaments, to some fibers of the Glutæus maximus behind, and to the Coccygeus in front.   6


FIG. 97– Lateral surfaces of sacrum and coccyx. (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 98– Base of sacrum. (See enlarged image)
 
 
Base (basis oss. sacri).—The base of the sacrum, which is broad and expanded, is directed upward and forward. In the middle is a large oval articular surface, the upper surface of the body of the first sacral vertebra, which is connected with the under surface of the body of the last lumbar vertebra by an intervertebral fibrocartilage. Behind this is the large triangular orifice of the sacral canal, which is completed by the laminæ and spinous process of the first sacral vertebra. The superior articular processes project from it on either side; they are oval, concave, directed backward and medialward, like the superior articular processes of a lumbar vertebra. They are attached to the body of the first sacral vertebra and to the alæ by short thick pedicles; on the upper surface of each pedicle is a vertebral notch, which forms the lower part of the foramen between the last lumbar and first sacral vertebræ. On either side of the body is a large triangular surface, which supports the Psoas major and the lumbosacral trunk, and in the articulated pelvis is continuous with the iliac fossa. This is called the ala; it is slightly concave from side to side, convex from before backward, and gives attachment to a few of the fibers of the Iliacus. The posterior fourth of the ala represents the transverse process, and its anterior three-fourths the costal process of the first sacral segment.   7


FIG. 99– Median sagittal section of the sacrum. (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 100– Coccyx. (See enlarged image)
 
 
Apex (apex oss. sacri).—The apex is directed downward, and presents an oval facet for articulation with the coccyx.   8
 
Vertebral Canal (canalis sacralis; sacral canal).—The vertebral canal (Fig. 99) runs throughout the greater part of the bone; above, it is triangular in form; below, its posterior wall is incomplete, from the non-development of the laminæ and spinous processes. It lodges the sacral nerves, and its walls are perforated by the anterior and posterior sacral foramina through which these nerves pass out.   9
 
Structure.—The sacrum consists of cancellous tissue enveloped by a thin layer of compact bone.   10
  
  
  
Articulations.—The sacrum articulates with four bones; the last lumbar vertebra above, the coccyx below, and the hip bone on either side.   11
 
Differences in the Sacrum of the Male and Female.—In the female the sacrum is shorter and wider than in the male; the lower half forms a greater angle with the upper; the upper half is nearly straight, the lower half presenting the greatest amount of curvature. The bone is also directed more obliquely backward; this increases the size of the pelvic cavity and renders the sacrovertebral angle more prominent. In the male the curvature is more evenly distributed over the whole length of the bone, and is altogether greater than in the female.   12
 
Variations.—The sacrum, in some cases, consists of six pieces; occasionally the number is reduced to four. The bodies of the first and second vertebræ may fail to unite. Sometimes the uppermost transverse tubercles are not joined to the rest of the ala on one or both sides, or the sacral canal may be open throughout a considerable part of its length, in consequence of the imperfect development of the laminæ and spinous processes. The sacrum, also, varies considerably with respect to its degree of curvature.   13
 
The Coccyx (os coccygis).—The coccyx (Fig. 100) is usually formed of four rudimentary vertebræ; the number may however be increased to five or diminished to three. In each of the first three segments may be traced a rudimentary body and articular and transverse processes; the last piece (sometimes the third) is a mere nodule of bone. All the segments are destitute of pedicles, laminæ, and spinous processes. The first is the largest; it resembles the lowest sacral vertebra, and often exists as a separate piece; the last three diminish in size from above downward, and are usually fused with one another.   14
 
Surfaces.—The anterior surface is slightly concave, and marked with three transverse grooves which indicate the junctions of the different segments. It gives attachment to the anterior sacrococcygeal ligament and the Levatores ani, and supports part of the rectum. The posterior surface is convex, marked by transverse grooves similar to those on the anterior surface, and presents on either side a linear row of tubercles, the rudimentary articular processes of the coccygeal vertebræ. Of these, the superior pair are large, and are called the coccygeal cornua; they project upward, and articulate with the cornua of the sacrum, and on either side complete the foramen for the transmission of the posterior division of the fifth sacral nerve.   15
 
Borders.—The lateral borders are thin, and exhibit a series of small eminences, which represent the transverse processes of the coccygeal vertebræ. Of these, the first is the largest; it is flattened from before backward, and often ascends to join the lower part of the thin lateral edge of the sacrum, thus completing the foramen for the transmission of the anterior division of the fifth sacral nerve; the others diminish in size from above downward, and are often wanting. The borders of the coccyx are narrow, and give attachment on either side to the sacrotuberous and sacrospinous ligaments, to the Coccygeus in front of the ligaments, and to the Glutæus maximus behind them.   16
 
Base.—The base presents an oval surface for articulation with the sacrum.   17
 
Apex.—The apex is rounded, and has attached to it the tendon of the Sphincter ani externus. It may be bifid, and is sometimes deflected to one or other side.   18
 
Ossification of the Vertebral Column.—Each cartilaginous vertebra is ossified from three primary centers (Fig. 101), two for the vertebral arch and one for the body. 16 Ossification of the vertebral arches begins in the upper cervical vertebræ about the seventh or eighth week of fetal life, and gradually extends down the column. The ossific granules first appear in the situations where the transverse processes afterward project, and spread backward to the spinous process forward into the pedicles, and lateralward into the transverse and articular processes. Ossification of the bodies begins about the eighth week in the lower thoracic region, and subsequently extends upward and downward along the column. The center for the body does not give rise to the whole of the body of the adult vertebra, the postero-lateral portions of which are ossified by extensions from the vertebral arch centers. The body of the vertebra during the first few years of life shows, therefore, two synchondroses, neurocentral synchondroses, traversing it along the planes of junction of the three centers (Fig. 102). In the thoracic region, the facets for the heads of the ribs lie behind the neurocentral synchondroses and are ossified from the centers for the vertebral arch. At birth the vertebra consists of three pieces, the body and the halves of the vertebral arch. During the first year the halves of the arch unite behind, union taking place first in the lumbar region and then extending upward through the thoracic and cervical regions. About the third year the bodies of the upper cervical vertebræ are joined to the arches on either side; in the lower lumbar vertebræ the union is not completed until the sixth year. Before puberty, no other changes occur, excepting a gradual increase of these primary centers, the upper and under surfaces of the bodies and the ends of the transverse and spinous processes being cartilaginous. About the sixteenth year (Fig. 102), five secondary centers appear, one for the tip of each transverse process, one for the extremity of the spinous process, one for the upper and one for the lower surface of the body (Fig. 103). These fuse with the rest of the bone about the age of twenty-five.   19


FIG. 101– Ossification of a vertebra (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 102– No caption. (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 103– No caption. (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 104– Atlas. (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 105– Axis. (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 106– Lumbar vertebra. (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 107– No caption. (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 108– No caption. (See enlarged image)
 


FIG. 109– Ossification of the sacrum. (See enlarged image)
 
  Exceptions to this mode of development occur in the first, second, and seventh cervical vertebræ, and in the lumbar vertebræ.   20
 
Atlas.—The atlas is usually ossified from three centers (Fig. 104). Of these, one appears in each lateral mass about the seventh week of fetal life, and extends backward; at birth, these portions of bone are separated from one another behind by a narrow interval filled with cartilage. Between the third and fourth years they unite either directly or through the medium of a separate center developed in the cartilage. At birth, the anterior arch consists of cartilage; in this a separate center appears about the end of the first year after birth, and joins the lateral masses from the sixth to the eighth year—the lines of union extending across the anterior portions of the superior articular facets. Occasionally there is no separate center, the anterior arch being formed by the forward extension and ultimate junction of the two lateral masses; sometimes this arch is ossified from two centers, one on either side of the middle line.   21
 
Epistropheus or Axis.—The axis is ossified from five primary and two secondary centers (Fig. 105). The body and vertebral arch are ossified in the same manner as the corresponding parts in the other vertebræ, viz., one center for the body, and two for the vertebral arch. The centers for the arch appear about the seventh or eighth week of fetal life, that for the body about the fourth or fifth month. The dens or odontoid process consists originally of a continuation upward of the cartilaginous mass, in which the lower part of the body is formed. About the sixth month of fetal life, two centers make their appearance in the base of this process: they are placed laterally, and join before birth to form a conical bilobed mass deeply cleft above; the interval between the sides of the cleft and the summit of the process is formed by a wedge-shaped piece of cartilage. The base of the process is separated from the body by a cartilaginous disk, which gradually becomes ossified at its circumference, but remains cartilaginous in its center until advanced age. In this cartilage, rudiments of the lower epiphysial lamella of the atlas and the upper epiphysial lamella of the axis may sometimes be found. The apex of the odontoid process has a separate center which appears in the second and joins about the twelfth year; this is the upper epiphysial lamella of the atlas. In addition to these there is a secondary center for a thin epiphysial plate on the under surface of the body of the bone.   22
 
The Seventh Cervical Vertebra.—The anterior or costal part of the transverse process of this vertebra is sometimes ossified from a separate center which appears about the sixth month of fetal life, and joins the body and posterior part of the transverse process between the fifth and sixth years. Occasionally the costal part persists as a separate piece, and, becoming lengthened lateralward and forward, constitutes what is known as a cervical rib. Separate ossific centers have also been found in the costal processes of the fourth, fifth, and sixth cervical vertebræ.   23
 
Lumbar Vertebræ.—The lumbar vertebræ (Fig. 106) have each two additional centers, for the mammillary processes. The transverse process of the first lumbar is sometimes developed as a separate piece, which may remain permanently ununited with the rest of the bone, thus forming a lumbar rib—a peculiarity, however, rarely met with.   24


FIG. 110– Base of young sacrum. (See enlarged image)
 
 
Sacrum (Figs. 107 to 110).—The body of each sacral vertebra is ossified from a primary center and two epiphysial plates, one for its upper and another for its under surface, while each vertebral arch is ossified from two centers.   25
  The anterior portions of the lateral parts have six additional centers, two for each of the first three vertebræ; these represent the costal elements, and make their appearance above and lateral to the anterior sacral foramina (Figs. 107, 108).   26
  On each lateral surface two epiphysial plates are developed (Figs. 109, 110): one for the auricular surface, and another for the remaining part of the thin lateral edge of the bone. 17   27
  PERIODS OF OSSIFICATION.—About the eighth or ninth week of fetal life, ossification of the central part of the body of the first sacral vertebra commences, and is rapidly followed by deposit of ossific matter in the second and third; ossification does not commence in the bodies of the lower two segments until between the fifth and eighth months of fetal life. Between the sixth and eighth months ossification of the vertebral arches takes place; and about the same time the costal centers for the lateral parts make their appearance. The junctions of the vertebral arches with the bodies take place in the lower vertebræ as early as the second year, but are not effected in the uppermost until the fifth or sixth year. About the sixteenth year the epiphysial plates for the upper and under surfaces of the bodies are formed; and between the eighteenth and twentieth years, those for the lateral surfaces make their appearance. The bodies of the sacral vertebræ are, during early life, separated from each other by intervertebral fibrocartilages, but about the eighteenth year the two lowest segments become united by bone, and the process of bony union gradually extends upward, with the result that between the twenty-fifth and thirtieth years of life all the segments are united. On examining a sagittal section of the sacrum, the situations of the intervertebral fibrocartilages are indicated by a series of oval cavities (Fig. 99).   28
 
Coccyx.—The coccyx is ossified from four centers, one for each segment. The ossific nuclei make their appearance in the following order: in the first segment between the first and fourth years; in the second between the fifth and tenth years; in the third between the tenth and fifteenth years; in the fourth between the fourteenth and twentieth years. As age advances, the segments unite with one another, the union between the first and second segments being frequently delayed until after the age of twenty-five or thirty. At a late period of life, especially in females, the coccyx often fuses with the sacrum.   29
Note 16.  A vertebra is occasionally found in which the body consists of two lateral portions—a condition which proves that the body is sometimes ossified from two primary centers, one on either side of the middle line. [back]
Note 17.  The ends of the spinous processes of the upper three sacral vertebræ are sometimes developed from separate epiphyses, and Fawcett (Anatomischer Anzeiger, 1907, Band xxx) states that a number of epiphysial nodules may be seen in the sacrum at the age of eighteen years. These are distributed as follows: One for each of the mammillary processes of the first sacral vertebra; twelve—six on either side—in connection with the costal elements (two each for the first and second and one each for the third and fourth) and eight for the transverse processes—four on either side—one each for the first, third, fourth, and fifth. He is further of opinion that the lower part of each lateral surface of the sacrum is formed by the extension and union of the third and fourth “costal” and fourth and fifth “transverse” epiphyses. [back]

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