Where Is the Ligamenta Flava Located?

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Key Takeaways:

  • The ligamenta flava connect the laminae of adjacent vertebrae throughout the spine from C2-3 to L5-S1.
  • They are located between vertebral laminae, forming a cup-like grasp around the upper border of the lamina below.
  • The ligaments are present bilaterally and symmetrically on both sides of the spine.
  • They are thin in the cervical spine but become progressively thicker in the thoracic and lumbar regions.
  • Their location provides support and stability to the vertebral column.


The ligamenta flava, also known as the ligamentum flavum, are important connective tissues that link together the vertebrae of the spine. Their specific location and anatomy allow them to play a critical role in stabilizing the vertebral column. This article will take an in-depth look at where exactly the ligamenta flava are situated within the spinal anatomy.

Understanding the precise location of the ligamenta flava is valuable for medical professionals, anatomy students, and anyone interested in improving their knowledge of spine structure and function. The content that follows will analyze this topic comprehensively, outlining the spinal levels spanned by the ligaments, their orientation and attachments, and regional variations in their thickness and appearance. Diagrams and descriptions will build a clear picture of the anatomy.

Gaining a thorough understanding of ligamenta flava placement will provide a stronger foundation for appreciating normal spinal mechanics. Furthermore, knowledge of their anatomical positioning can lend insight into how injury or degeneration of these ligaments can contribute to back problems and pain. With comprehensive details and descriptions, this article aims to answer where the ligamenta flava are found in an easy-to-understand manner.

Whether you are a student looking to broaden your anatomical knowledge or a patient seeking to better comprehend your own spine health, this resource will help elucidate the precise localization of the ligamenta flava. The level of detail provided will leave you with a fuller understanding of this key spinal stabilizing structure.

Where Is the Ligamenta Flava Located?

Where Are the Ligamenta Flava Located in the Spine?

The ligamenta flava connect the ventral parts of the laminae of adjacent vertebrae. They are found throughout the spine, starting from C2-3 superiorly and ending with L5-S1 inferiorly. Here are some key details about the location of the ligamenta flava:

  • The ligamenta flava are present from C2/3 to the sacrum.
  • They are considered a medial ward continuation of the facet joint.
  • At each intersegmental level, the ligamentum flavum is a paired structure, represented symmetrically on both sides.
  • In the neck region, the ligaments are thin but broad and long. They become thicker in the thoracic region and thickest in the lumbar region.
  • The ligamentum flavum arises from the lower half of the anterior surface of the lamina above and attaches to the posterior surface and upper margin of the lamina below, forming a cup-like grasp on the upper border of the lamina below.

What Spinal Levels Do the Ligamenta Flava Span?

The ligamenta flava are found spanning every level of the vertebral column, from the axis (C2) down to the sacrum (S1). More specifically:

  • Cervical spine – The ligamenta flava are present between C2 and C3, all the way down through C7 and T1. There are 6 sets in the neck region.
  • Thoracic spine – They span between T1 and T2 through T11 and T12. There are 11 sets in the thoracic spine.
  • Lumbar spine – Found between L1 and L2 down to L5 and S1. The lumbar spine contains 5 sets.

Therefore, in total there are 22 sets of ligamenta flava throughout the length of the vertebral column. They bridge each gap between adjacent vertebrae, from the axis through the sacrum. Their continuity provides stability and flexural support along the entire spine.

How Are the Ligamenta Flava Oriented and Attached?

The orientation and bony attachments of the ligamenta flava are important to their function. Here is how they are arranged:

  • The ligaments are positioned vertically between laminae. Their long axis runs from superior to inferior.
  • They are attached superiorly to the lamina above and inferiorly to the lamina below.
  • Specifically, they originate from the lower half of the anterior surface of the lamina above.
  • They insert onto the upper edge and posterior surface of the lamina below.
  • This creates a cup-like enclosure around the dorsal border of the lower lamina.
  • The attachments form a succession of overlapping cups down the length of the spine.

So in summary, the ligamenta flava are oriented vertically between vertebrae and grasp the upper rim of each lower lamina like a cup handle. Their attachments allow each ligament to connect and stabilize adjacent vertebrae.

Are the Ligaments Paired Structures?

Yes, the ligamenta flava are paired structures. At each spinal level, there is a ligamentum flavum on both the right and left sides.

Some key points about the paired nature of the ligaments:

  • They exhibit bilateral symmetry – the right and left ligaments mirror each other.
  • Each ligament spans from the lamina above to the lamina below on its respective side.
  • The two ligaments are separated in the midline by the ligamentum nuchae in the cervical region.
  • They join together to form a single midline insertion in the lumbar spine.
  • The paired arrangement allows the ligamenta flava to provide balanced support and stability.

So in summary, there are two ligamenta flava present at each segmental level, connecting the laminae on both sides in a symmetrical fashion. Their bilateral presence enhances their stabilizing functionality.

How Does Ligament Thickness Vary by Spinal Region?

The thickness of the ligamenta flava is not uniform throughout the spinal column. Significant regional variations exist:

  • Cervical – In the neck, the ligaments are relatively thin but broad in shape. They are on average around 1.5 mm thick.
  • Thoracic – The mid back ligaments are intermediate in thickness, averaging about 2.5 mm.
  • Lumbar – The lower back contains the thickest ligamenta flava, which can be up to 10 mm thick in places.

What accounts for these differences? A 2020 study by Zheng et al. proposed some explanations:

  • Greater thickness may help resist higher mechanical stresses placed on the lumbar spine.
  • More fat content in the thoracic and lumbar ligaments increases thickness.
  • Ossification tends to increase thickness in lower spinal regions.

So in summary, the ligamenta flava tend to be thin and sheet-like in the neck, intermediate in the mid back, and thickest and most robust in the lower back where mechanical demands are highest.

How Do the Ligamenta Flava Contribute to Spinal Stability?

The strategic location and attachments of the ligamenta flava allow them to play an important role in stabilizing the vertebral column. Some of their key functions include:

  • Providing tensile strength between vertebrae to resist separation.
  • Limiting flexion and anterior shear forces through their vertical orientation.
  • Preventing excessive extension and posterior shearing.
  • Maintaining the cup-like enclosure of facet joints through their grasp of lamina borders.
  • Allowing flexibility while resisting segmental motions that could destabilize the spine.

A biomechanical study by Yuan et al. in 2018 evaluated how ligamenta flava defects affected lumbar spine stability. They found that damage led to increased motion and instability. This research highlights the ligaments’ contribution to normal stability.

In summary, the location and anatomy of the ligamenta flava provide critical reinforcement to the spinal column, helping maintain segmental alignment and resisting excessive displacements. Their presence throughout the entire spine protects and stabilizes the vertebrae during positioning and movement.

What Happens When the Ligamenta Flava Are Injured or Degenerate?

Because the ligamenta flava play an important stabilizing role, injury or degeneration of these structures can have consequences. Some potential effects include:

  • Excess motion – Damaged ligamenta flava provide less restriction of segmental spinal motions, resulting in instability.
  • Spinal stenosis – Thickening, calcification, or buckling of the ligaments into the spinal canal can compress nerves.
  • Low back pain – Altered spinal mechanics and loading on other tissues due to ligament injury can cause low back and neck pain.
  • Degenerative cascade – Additional stress on surrounding tissues may accelerate degeneration and joint arthropathy.

According to a study by Sairyo et al., ligamentum flavum hypertrophy is present in over 70% of lumbar spinal stenosis cases. This demonstrates a link between degeneration of these ligaments and symptomatic stenosis.

Proper functioning of the ligamenta flava is tied to spinal health. Their injury, degeneration, or anatomical changes can contribute to significant back problems. Preserving their integrity is key to avoiding pathology.


In summary, the ligamenta flava are essential connectors between vertebrae that span the entire length of the spine, from the cervical levels down to the lumbosacral region. They exhibit a consistent pattern of attachments, grasping the dorsal aspect of laminae like cup handles to provide tensile strength and restraint of motion. Though thin in the neck, they become thicker in the thoracic and lumbar areas where more support is needed. By linking together each segment, the ligamenta flava provide critical reinforcement and stabilization along the vertebral column. Their anatomy and location allows them to protect normal spine mechanics. Damage or degeneration of these important ligaments can predispose individuals to pain, spinal instability, and other problems. Knowledge of how the ligamenta flava are positioned and function can lend useful insight into spine health.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Ligamenta Flava

What is the function of the ligamenta flava?

The main functions of the ligamenta flava are to connect adjacent vertebrae, provide stability, limit spinal flexion and extension, and protect spinal nerves and structures. Their attachments and orientation help restrict excessive vertebral motions.

Where are the ligamentum flavum located in the neck?

In the cervical spine, the ligamenta flava connect the lamina of C2 to C3, C3 to C4, all the way down to C7 and T1. So they span each gap between cervical vertebrae, stabilizing the neck.

Do the ligamenta flava completely encircle the spinal canal?

No, the ligamenta flava do not form a complete circular enclosure around the spinal canal. They are paired structures located on the posterior side, connecting the laminae. The pedicles and vertebral bodies are anterior to the ligamenta flava.

Can thickened ligamenta flava cause spinal stenosis?

Yes, hypertrophy or thickening of the ligamenta flava is a common cause of degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis. As the ligaments enlarge, they can buckle into the spinal canal, compressing nerves.

How does the thickness of the ligaments change from cervical to lumbar spine?

The ligamenta flava are thinnest in the cervical spine, intermediate in thickness in the thoracic region, and thickest in the lumbar spine. Their greater thickness in the lower back provides more support.

Can injury to the ligamenta flava cause neck or back pain?

Yes, damage to the ligamenta flava can alter spinal mechanics and loading, potentially contributing to pain. They help provide spine stability, so their injury can lead to instability, pain, and degeneration through compensatory loading.

Are the ligamenta flava separate from the ligamentum nuchae?

Yes, the ligamenta flava are distinct paired ligaments that connect vertebral laminae. The ligamentum nuchae is a median septum in the posterior neck that attaches the cervical spinous processes together in the midline.

What is the medical term meaning “related to the ligamenta flava”?

The medical adjective “flavum” refers to something related to the ligamenta flava. For example, “ligamentum flavum hypertrophy” refers to thickening of the ligamenta flava structures.

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