The vertebral column, also known as the backbone or spine, is part of the axial skeleton. The vertebral column is the defining characteristic of a vertebrate in which the notochord (a flexible rod of uniform composition) found in all chordates has been replaced by a segmented series of bone: vertebrae separated by intervertebral discs. Individual vertebrae are named according to their region and position, and can be used as anatomical landmarks in order to guide procedures such as lumbar punctures. The vertebral column houses the spinal canal, a cavity that encloses and protects the spinal cord.
There are about 50,000 species of animals that have a vertebral column. The human vertebral column is one of the most-studied examples. Many different diseases in humans can affect the spine, with spina bifida and scoliosis being recognisable examples.
The general structure of human vertebrae is fairly typical of that found in mammals, reptiles, and birds. The shape of the vertebral body does, however, vary somewhat between different groups.