The somatic nervous system (SNS) is made up of nerves that are connected to skin, muscles and sensory organs (the eyes, ears, nose, skin, etc.). This system enables our voluntary control of muscles, as well as our reception of sights, sounds, sensations, tastes and smells.
The somatic nervous system is part of the peripheral nervous system, which works in conjunction with the central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral nervous system is made up of a network of nerves that connect the limbs and organs to the brain and spinal cord.
As mentioned previously, the somatic nervous system deals with our voluntary control of muscles and our five senses. To do its job, the somatic nervous system employs two kinds of nerves – efferent and afferent nerves. Efferent nerves carry signals from the central nervous system to the muscles and sensory organs, while afferent nerves carry signals from the muscles and sensory organs to the central nervous system.
While the somatic nervous system deals with our voluntary control of muscles, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) deals with involuntary actions, such as digestion, salivation, heart rate, perspiration and the “fight or flight” response.
In the spinal column, nerve roots branch off the spinal cord and form a network of somatic nerves throughout the body. Damage to or impingement of the nerve roots in the spine that serve the somatic nervous system can lead to symptoms like numbness, tingling, loss of movement, burning and pain in the area of the body that corresponds to that somatic spinal nerve. Common causes of nerve impingement include:
- Degenerative disc disease – develops with age and often causes intervertebral discs to become brittle
- Herniated disc – the outer layer of a disc ruptures and inner disc material extrudes into spinal canal
- Bulging disc – the disc becomes misshapen and part of it extrudes into spinal canal
- Spinal stenosis – the spinal canal narrows and puts painful pressure on surrounding nerves
Once your physician has determined that one or more of the above conditions is causing painful compression on spinal nerves, he or she may suggest a course of conservative treatment that includes mild exercise, rest, medication and/or cortisone injections. Although these treatments can provide temporary relief, a more substantial treatment of the problem may be necessary.
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