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Spinal Nerves: Anatomy, Function, and Common Conditions - Spine Center of Texas
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Spinal Nerves: Anatomy, Function, and Common Conditions

Brunette girl is holding hand on back. Young woman is feeling bad. Sudden attack of pinched nerve pain, vertebral displacement, radiculitis. Effects of hypothermia, injury, passive lifestyle.

The spinal nerves relay autonomic, motor, and sensory information from the spinal cord to the rest of the body. Individual nerves consist of fibers from the dorsal and ventral roots. 31 pairs are distributed to the five segments of the spinal column:

  • Cervical (neck) – eight pairs
  • Thoracic (upper back) – 12 pairs
  • Lumbar (low back) – five pairs
  • Sacral – five pairs
  • Coccygeal – one pair

All but one pair (the first) extend from the spinal column and exit through a gap located at the side of each linked vertebrae. When nerve pairs leave the spinal column, they split into sections that carry signals to designated areas.

Spinal nerve functions are divided according to the following regions:

  1. Cervical: provides motor and sensory control to the head, neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, and hands. The phrenic nerve originates from nerve roots C3, C4, and C5, and controls the diaphragm.
  2. Thoracic: supply nerve function to the muscles of the abdomen, chest, and parts of the hand. Thoracic nerves also aid with breathing by controlling the small muscles between the ribs.
  3. Lumbar and sacral: control leg muscles used in walking, running, jumping, and those that allow the hip joint to bend.

Several different conditions affect spinal nerve function. The most common of these are:

  • Compressive Neuropathy, which happens when nerves leaving the spinal column become constricted. Spinal stenosis, a herniated disc, or bone spurs can trigger this disorder, which occurs more often in older individuals.
  • Sciatica, a problem caused by compression of the sciatic nerve that leads to pain and inflammation.
  • Peripheral Neuropathy, resulting from the complications of diabetes or drugs. The distant part of nerve tissue shrinks, compromising feeling and movement.
  • Spinal Infections, producing pain and swelling if not treated immediately.
  • Spinal Meningitis, a serious infection causing membrane inflammation in the brain and spinal cord that often requires hospitalization.

If you are experiencing nerve pain and would like to learn about our treatment choices from one of our specialists, please contact our San Antonio, Seguin or New Braunfels offices.