Learn About Chest Wall Anatomy

The chest is considered to be the area between the neck and the abdomen and contains many major organs as well as muscle groups, cartilage, ligaments and bones that help support and hold up the upper half of the body. Read below to learn more about chest wall anatomy.

The chest houses some of the body’s most vital organs including the heart and large blood vessels that connect to the heart, as well as the lungs and the esophagus. Protecting these organs is the rib cage, which consists of the sternum (also known as the breastbone), ribs and vertebrae. The rib cage connects at the top to the clavicle (or collar bone), connects in the front to the sternum and connects in the back to the vertebrae. An intercostal space is the space between two ribs. Within each of these intercostal spaces lie two groups of nerves and blood vessels, or neurovascular bundles. Because of these nerves, pain from the neck sometimes travels to the chest wall.

The muscle group that makes up the chest is in the front of the body and includes the sternalis near the sternum, the serratus anterior near the armpits, the deltoid in the front of the shoulder, the pectoralis major at the front center of the chest, the pectoralis minor also near the front center of the chest and the external oblique, near the lower side of the body.

From the base of the neck spanning to the bottom of the rib cage is known as the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is the portion of the spine that curves outward and is responsible for supporting the rib cage and chest wall, which in turn protects the heart, lungs and other major organs.

The thoracic spine consists of twelve vertebrae, referred as T1 through T12 and descending from T1 at the vertebrae at the base of the neck and ending with T12 near the bottom of the rib cage. In between each vertebrae lies a vertebral disc filled with gelatinous material that acts as a shock absorber in the spine. The discs housed in the thoracic spine are thinner than in the rest of the spine, lending to less movement between the specific vertebrae of the thoracic spine. The spinal cord is housed within the spine, and is protected by the bones of the spine. There is also a complex network of nerves within the entire spine, but the nerves that are specifically housed in the thoracic spine serve to support and control the inner workings of the chest and abdomen, namely, the muscles and organs.

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