A nerve root refers to the base of a nerve as it branches off the spinal cord to carry motor, sensory and other signals throughout the body. Originating between the vertebrae, these nerve structures can also be the source of neurological, neck or back pain should they become pinched, irritated or impinged. This nerve root inflammation can be caused by a variety of sources, such as regular aging, traumatic injury or an intervertebral disc disorder.
As the spinal cord extends from the base of the brain, it makes its way through the cervical and thoracic segments of the spine in the neck and middle back, respectively. Nerve roots branch off the spinal cord in pairs between the cervical and thoracic vertebrae and also come off the end of the cord in lumbar, sacral and coccygeal spine segments. Originating at the spinal cord, the nerve roots traverse through the body, allowing sensory signals to be sent to and from the extremities.
Nerves can be grouped into two categories:
- Sensory – these nerves collect and process information, giving us our sense of touch and the ability to recognize other stimuli, such as pain, heat and cold
- Motor – these nerves are responsible for controlling muscle function throughout the body
In the event that a nerve root is interfered with, a number of unique symptoms can present, depending on the severity, origin and location of the affected nerve. For example, muscle weakness can result from motor nerve irritation, while radiating pain may be caused by sensory nerve problems. Nerve root compression can be caused by a number of conditions but is most commonly associated with:
- The inflammation or herniation of an intervertebral disc – These spongy pads are located in between the vertebrae and prevent them from grinding against one another, but over time, the discs are susceptible to deterioration. Should a disc become swollen or ruptured, it will occasionally come in contact with a nerve root and cause compression.
- The thinning or collapse of an intervertebral disc – Another type of disc degeneration is the thinning or collapse of discs. When a disc collapses, the vertebrae above and below the disc move closer together, tightening the spaces through which nerve roots travel out of the spinal column.
- Arthritis of the spine – Osteoarthritis in the spine leads to a degeneration of cartilage on the spine’s facet joints. Once cartilage disappears, the body compensates by growing bone spurs, and these extra bone growths can impinge on a nerve root.
If you have nerve root compression and are considering your treatment options, first visit your local physician to learn about conservative pain management techniques. If, after several months, these treatments prove insufficient and you consider your surgical options, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about minimally invasive, outpatient spine procedures as an alternative to traditional open spine surgery. We can provide you with all of the information you require to make an informed decision, as well as offer you a review of your MRI or CT scan.