Cake or….Superior Articular Facets?

Superior Articular Facets: Thoracic Vertebra

Superior Articular Facets: Thoracic Vertebra

Excuse the Eddie Izzard reference. After learning this trick a few years back I’ve used it to teach students (or whoever is unfortunate enough to wander into the osteology lab when I’m in a didactic mood) how to identify vertebrae based on the orientation of their superior articular facets. To make it less formal, I rely on a useful little spiel involving hospitality and cake. The trick can also come in handy if you’re dealing with vertebral fragments.

If you’re not up on your vertebral features, the superior articular facets are the most superior…articular….facets on the vertebrae. Dammit osteologists, why you gotta be so literal all the time?  See above for a visual.

Now, once you’ve oriented your vert so that it’s in SAP and you’re looking at it in posterior view (in essence, looking at someone’s spine while standing behind them), identify the superior articular facets and examine their orientation; this is different for cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. Then, use the following dialogue to figure out which one you’ve got!*

1.  Be a good host/hostess.

"Would you like some cake?"


Notice how the orientation of the superior articular facets mirrors the orientation of my hands. Also, if I were really  a cervical vertebra I’d also have two transverse foramina bored into my shoulders, but I don’t care THAT much about teaching…

2. Play the polite guest.



You’ll have to suspend disbelief on this one; I’ve never in my life refused cake.

3. Finally relent and give in to your gluttony.



Again, my acting skills here are Oscar-worthy. I would never cut a slice of cake that small.

* As always, I’d recommend checking if anyone else is in the room before you do this, otherwise you sound a little bit like you’ve got Multiple Personality Disorder….Thanks to Danielle Trunzo (ASU) and Chelsea Himes (USC) for teaching me the original trick ages ago! Original images are 1 & 2 & 3.

This entry was posted in Osteology, Vertebrae and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cake or….Superior Articular Facets?

  1. Alice Wright says:

    I am learning and dying from laughter at the same time! Bravo JB. #2 is truly epic.


  2. Aly B says:

    I love creative siding and identifying techniques! I learned that cervical verts look like ‘snorks’ from the 1980’s tv show, thoracic verts look like giraffes, and lumbar verts look like moose. This is very helpful!


  3. Pingback: OsteoMenagerie 7: The Vertebrae | Bone Broke

  4. Incredible! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a completely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout
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