The spinal canal is a long opening down the center of the spinal column. The spinal cord runs through this opening. The canal begins at the base of the skull and ends at the lower back, providing a pathway for the central nervous system to send messages from the brain to the rest of the body and back again.
The spinal canal is formed by openings within the vertebrae. These vertebral openings are called foramina. Along the length of the canal is the epidural space, which surrounds the dura mater – a protective membrane that encloses the spinal cord. The blood vessels that supply the spine with blood also run through the spinal canal.
The most important function of the spinal canal is to serve as a conduit for spinal nerves. There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves, each branching off the spinal cord in order to send messages (in the form of sensory impulses) to different parts of the body. The groupings of nerve roots branching off the spinal cord are named for the region of the spine in which they are found: cervical (upper spine), thoracic (mid-spine), lumbar (lower spine) and sacral (lower spine).
Each set of nerve roots delivers messages to a different area, muscle group or organ. The responsibilities for sensory and motor control for the different nerve groups within the spinal canal include:
- Cervical nerves: Head, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands and diaphragm
- Thoracic nerves: Hands, chest, back and abdomen
- Lumbar nerves: Legs and feet
- Sacral nerves: Legs, bowel, bladder and reproductive function
Abnormalities within the spinal anatomy – such as degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis – can create extra pressure within the spinal canal, resulting in chronic neck or back pain. Often, the neck or back pain begins when a nerve root has become compressed or irritated by a condition known as spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal that could be caused by a herniated disc, bone spur or other spinal condition.
The surgeons at Laser Spine Institute can treat these conditions using state-of-the-art techniques. Contact Laser Spine Institute for a free review of your MRI or CT scan, and to learn more about how our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures can help you find relief from neck or back pain.