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 can be found 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, diaphragm
- Thoracic nerves: Hands, chest, back, abdomen
- Lumbar nerves: Legs, feet
- Sacral nerves: Legs, bowel, bladder, reproductive function
Abnormalities within the spinal anatomy – such as degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis – can create extra pressure within the spinal canal, resulting in chronic back or neck 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 medical professionals at Laser Spine Institute (LSI) can treat these conditions using gentle, endoscopic techniques. Contact LSI for a free review of your MRI or CT scan, and to learn more about how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure can help you rediscover a life without pain.