The spinal cord and the brain together make up the central nervous system (CNS). The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is made up of all nerves that lie outside of the CNS. The CNS and PNS are the immediate communications system of the body. Nerve roots or rootlets are the beginning points of spinal nerves (of the PNS) as they anchor themselves into the spinal cord (of the CNS). Thus, spinal nerve rootlets are a transfer point. Sensation impulses transmitted from your body to your brain, and motor impulses moving from the brain to your body, traverse spinal nerve rootlets. Although your body is filled with extremely complex mechanisms, understanding the physiological basics can greatly help you to recognize problems and seek appropriate treatment.
Spine nerve roots are the gateway to the PNS. The human body has 31 pairs of spinal nerves, each pair formed by nerve fibers that branch off the spinal cord as a nerve root. Each nerve root is attached to the spinal cord by two rootlets: a ventral rootlet (anterior) and a dorsal rootlet (posterior). Dorsal rootlets carry sensory impulses to the spinal cord, and ventral rootlets carry impulses from the spinal cord to the body.
Nerve roots, a vital part of our anatomy, are located in each region of the spine and, according to their location, can cause different symptoms when compressed, including:
- Cervical spine nerve roots (eight) – these are located in the neck; compression may cause pain or tingling that radiates through the neck, shoulders, arms, and hands
- Thoracic spine nerve roots (12) – these are located in the middle of the back; compression may cause numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation around the rib cage and abdomen
- Lumbar spine nerve roots (five) – these are located in the lower back; compression may cause traveling pain that surges through the buttocks and down the entire leg
- Sacral nerve roots (five) – these are located at the base of the spine, between the hip bones; compression can cause pelvic pain and bowel dysfunction
- Coccygeal nerve root (one) – located in the tailbone; can cause rectal pain
If you are experiencing spinal nerve symptoms, consult your physician immediately. Your physician may prescribe exercise, rest, cortisone injections, anti-inflammatory steroids or other conservative treatments, depending on the location and severity of the pinched nerve. These therapies treat symptoms, not the cause of the symptoms.
Sometimes, conservative treatments prove ineffective, and surgery to treat the cause of the symptoms is necessary. If the next treatment step is surgery, it may take the form of traditional open surgery or the newer, technically advanced minimally invasive surgery. Minimally invasive surgery was invented to circumvent much of the risk and undesirable features of traditional open spine surgery. Please contact Laser Spine Institute for information about our minimally invasive procedures, which are performed on an outpatient basis and offer an alternative to the risks of open spine surgery. Contact us today for more information about nerve roots and spinal anatomy, and to receive a review of your MRI or CT scan.