Low back pain and spinal nerve pain or "neurogenic pain"
To work properly, our body must be connected to the brain. If the connections fail or are damaged then the part of the body involved will either stop working or will show signs of being unhappy. Usually this unhappiness is felt as pain.
Running down inside the backbone is the spinal cord. This is not a nerve itself - more a bit of the brain really but nearly all of our body's nerves come from it.
The bones of the back surround the spinal cord and they protect it from injury. It runs down a tunnel in the bones called the spinal canal. All around it, like a sleeve, is a tissue paper covering called the meninges. This is where the name meningitis comes from - meningitis is inflammation of the meninges.
" Itis " simply means inflammation. So tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils. Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin and so on. In the next chapter we will mention inflammation of the discs - that's it - discitis - medical terms can be simple once you learn the ground rules.
What does the spinal cord do?
The nerves to most of the body come out of the spinal cord. From the neck they run down into our arms. In the bit of the spine at the back of our chests - called the thoracic spine - they work the muscles that help us move our ribs and breathe. Those nerves coming from the lower part - usually named the lumbar region - go down into our legs. They are a bit like telephone wires carrying information to and fro.
The spinal cord helps the brain to organize the messages coming and going along these nerves. Sometimes, when a quick reaction is needed - taking your hand away from a hot cooker for example -the cord takes decisions for itself. Sometimes it asks for the brains opinion. The brain and spinal cord work in harmony to control our muscles, joints and internal organs.
So what do the spinal nerves do? Three things. They give the muscles their power. They allow the skin to feel and they are responsible for making the reflexes work. These are all things a doctor or therapist will test when trying to decide if your nerves are working properly. The reflexes are especially useful because they give us information about the spinal cord itself as well as about the nerves that arise from it.
If a nerve is irritated then pain is felt in the area of the body that nerve goes to. A lot of irritation will cause numbness or pins and needles as well as pain. Muscle weakness can sometimes appear if a nerve isn't working well.
You will have seen from these pictures that the disc sits in front of the spinal nerve. Just behind is the joint between the two bones. Problems in the disc or wear and tear in the joints can lead to nerve trouble.
The spinal cord comes down inside our backbone to be about level with our tummy button at the front. Below that down to our buttocks - and still inside the protection of our backbone - runs a collection of fine nerve fibres called the cauda equina. This name means horses tail and that's exactly what these little bundles of nerves look like. Problems in the cauda equina can be a major medical emergency.
Page Links for lower back pain pagesLower back pain
Back pain causes
Back pain down the leg
The joints of the spine and the sacroiliac joint
Back pain, disc pain and disc degeneration
Lumbar facet joint pain - lower back pain and the lumbar facet joints
What is Lower Back Pain - Why does your back hurt?
The Pain Gate and why your lower back pain hurts so much
Lower Back Pain Treatment and Referred Pain
First aid treatment measures for a low back pain attack
Spinal Manipulation treatment- some truths and myths about spinal manipulation treatment
Acupuncture treatment for lower back pain