Spinal nerve roots exist in pairs throughout the length of the spinal column, and are responsible for sending and receiving sensory (feeling) and motor (motion) signals throughout the body. These structures extend off the spinal cord and leave the spinal column through spaces between the bony vertebrae, eventually branching out in a complicated infrastructure of nerves. However, should a nerve root become compressed or irritated, a number of painful symptoms may be exhibited – depending on the severity, source and origin of the problem.
Originating at the base of the brain, the spinal cord extends through the cervical and thoracic spine (neck and middle back) before branching off into a “tail” of nerves in the lumbar, sacral and coccyx spine segments in the lower back. It is this structure, known as the central nervous system, that controls all of the body’s activities, including organ function, muscle control and the sense of touch. Spinal nerve roots are literally the roots of major nerves as they branch off the spinal cord and form a network in the body.
There are 30 pairs of spinal nerve roots in a normal human:
- 8 in the cervical spine (neck)
- 12 in the thoracic spine (middle back)
- 5 in the lumbar spine (lower back)
- 5 in the sacral spine (posterior)
- And one unpaired nerve root in the coccyx (tailbone)
Unfortunately, the proximity of the spinal nerve roots to the spinal column makes them susceptible to compression from spinal deterioration. Irritation of nerve roots can be traced to a variety of causes, including spinal stenosis, facet disease and other forms of arthritis, but the degeneration of an intervertebral disc is the most common cause of neurological pain. In a regularly functioning spine, discs are spongy pads that prevent the vertebrae from grinding together; discs also absorb the daily pressures and shocks placed upon the back and neck. However, over time these discs begin to wear down and can swell or rupture, causing undue pressure to be placed on a nearby nerve root. It is this compression that causes a patient’s back, neck, and traveling pain, as well as symptoms like muscle weakness, tingling, and numbness.
If you are suffering from nerve compression, schedule a consultation with your family physician. In most cases, your symptoms can be sufficiently managed with conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication, low-impact exercise and heat therapy. Should your pain persist or your conditions grow extreme, contact Laser Spine Institute (LSI) to learn about outpatient, minimally invasive endoscopic techniques. Our gentle procedures are an excellent alternative to open back surgery. Call LSI today to learn more about spinal nerve roots and for a free review of your MRI or CT scan.