Spinal nerve roots — overview

Spinal nerve roots exist in pairs throughout the length of the spinal column and are the point where individual nerves branch off from the spinal cord. These roots exit the spinal cord through openings between the vertebrae. Because the spine is so delicately constructed, the nerve root exits can become constricted if a deteriorated disc or arthritic bone spur becomes displaced. Debilitating symptoms can result if narrowing of the nerve root exits — called foraminal stenosis — puts pressure on the spinal nerve roots.

Nerve roots and the nervous system

Starting at the base of the brain, the spinal cord extends through the cervical (upper) and thoracic (middle) spine before branching off into a bundle of nerves in the lumbar, sacral and coccyx in the lower spine. The brain and the spinal cord together form the central nervous system, which controls all of the body’s activities, including organ function, muscle control and the sense of touch.

Spinal nerve roots are the roots of major nerves as they branch off the spinal cord and travel to the rest of the body, forming the peripheral nervous system. Each person normally has 30 pairs of spinal nerve roots:

  • Eight in the cervical spine
  • Twelve in the thoracic spine
  • Five in the lumbar spine
  • Five in the sacral spine
  • One unpaired nerve root in the coccyx (tailbone)

In addition to local symptoms, compression of the spinal nerve roots can cause radiating symptoms to travel along the length of the affected nerve. The location of symptoms like burning pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness depends on the location of the compressed nerve root. For example, a compressed nerve root in the lower back may affect the hips, buttocks, legs and feet.

Treating spinal nerve root compression

Upon diagnosing spinal nerve root compression, most physicians recommend a course of conservative treatments, including options like anti-inflammatory medication, low-impact exercise and heat therapy. Surgery is usually considered when weeks or months of conservative therapy does not bring a necessary improvement in symptoms to regain normal activity.

If you are considering spine surgery but are concerned about some of the downsides that can come with traditional open back procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our outpatient minimally invasive spine surgery is an alternative to traditional open back surgery which offers our patients a shorter recovery time^ with less risk of complication.

Call Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.