Ligamenta flava (from Latin flavus – yellow) are paired elastic joints connecting the arches of vertebrae from C2 to the S1. The yellow color is due to the very high content of the elastin (highest percentage of elastic fibers of any tissue in the body1), which brings rubber-like physical properties to the joint. It is believed that this is necessary to minimize the prolapse of yellow ligaments into the spinal canal during spine extension2 and, therefore, avoid the risk of the compression of spinal structures (spinal cord and roots of the spinal nerves) caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal.
2 White, A. A. & Panjabi, M. M. Clinical Biomechanics of the Spine. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1990; p.23
The ventral aspect of the vertebral arches with the yellow ligaments in situ.
The yellow ligaments are paired joints separated from each other in a midline by the gap or groove filled with epidural fat. The arrangement of these ligaments along the posterior wall of the spinal canal changes gradually: from the more rounded in the cervical part to the more angulated and tent-like – in the lumbar1. In the cervical portion, the yellow ligaments laterally border with the zygapophyseal joints. At the same time, in the lumbar – ligamenta flava extend up to the intervertebral foramina, completely separating the joint's capsule from the spinal canal2.
Click an image to hide yellow ligaments. Please note the pattern of attachment of these joints to the vertebral arches. The upper attachment zone for each yellow ligament includes the broad area on the upper vertebral arch facing the spinal canal. In contrast, the lower attachment zone is arranged mainly along the upper edge and the posterior surface of the lower vertebra's arch3.