Typical Spinal Nerve

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In the human body, every spinal nerve has essentially the same construction and components. By learning the anatomy of one spinal nerve, you can understand the anatomy of all spinal nerves.

a. Parts of a "Typical" Spinal Nerve (figure 11-8). Like a tree, a typical spinal nerve has roots, a trunk, and branches (rami).

Figure 11-8. A "typical" spinal nerve with a cross section of the spinal cord.

(1) Coming off of the posterior and anterior sides of the spinal cord are the posterior (dorsal) and anterior (ventral) roots of the spinal nerve. An enlargement on the posterior root is the posterior root ganglion. A ganglion is a collection of neuron cell bodies, together, outside the CNS.

(2) Laterally, the posterior and anterior roots of the spinal nerve join to form the spinal nerve trunk. The spinal nerve trunk of each spinal nerve is located in the appropriate intervertebral foramen of the vertebral column. (An intervertebral foramen is a passage formed on either side of the junction between two vertebrae.)

(3) Where the spinal nerve trunk emerges laterally from the intervertebral foramen, the trunk divides into two major branches. These branches are called the anterior (ventral) and posterior (dorsal) primary rami (ramus, singular). The posterior primary rami go to the back. The anterior primary rami go to the sides and front of the body and also to the upper and lower members.

b. Neurons of a "Typical" Spinal Nerve. A nerve is defined above as a collection of neuron processes. Thus, neuron processes are the components that make up a nerve. These processes may belong to any of several different types of neurons: afferent (sensory), efferent (motor), and visceral motor neurons of the ANS.

(1) The afferent neuron and the efferent neuron are the two types we will consider here. An afferent neuron is one which carries information from the periphery to the CNS.

A = toward

FERENT = to carry

An efferent neuron is one which carries information from the CNS to a muscle or gland.

FERENT = to carry

(2) The afferent neuron is often called the sensory neuron because it carries information about the senses to the CNS. The efferent neuron is often called the motor neuron because it carries commands from the CNS to cause a muscle to act.

(3) A stimulus acts upon a sensory receptor organ in the skin or in another part of the body. The information is carried by an afferent (sensory) neuron through merging branches of the spinal nerve to the posterior root ganglion. The afferent (sensory) neuron's cell body is located in the posterior root ganglion. From this point, information continues in the posterior root to the spinal cord. The efferent (motor) neuron carries command information from the spinal cord to the individual muscle of the human body.

(4) Visceral motor neurons of the ANS (see section V), which innervate visceral organs of the body's periphery, are distributed along with the peripheral nerves.

c. The General Reflex Arc (figure 11-9).

c. The General Reflex Arc (figure 11-9).

Figure 11-9. The general reflex arc.

(1) Definitions.

(a) An automatic reaction to a stimulus (without first having conscious sensation) is referred to as a reflex. (As an example: The withdrawal of the hand from a hot object.)

(b) The pathway from the receptor organ to the reacting muscle is called the reflex arc.

(2) Components of the general reflex arc. The pathway of a general reflex arc involves a minimum of five structures.

(a) The stimulus is received by a receptor organ.

(b) That information is transmitted to the CNS by the afferent (sensory)


(c) Within the spinal cord, there is a special neuron connecting the afferent neuron to the efferent neuron. This special connecting neuron is called the internuncial neuron, or interneuron.

INTER = between NUNCIA = messenger

INTERNUNCIAL = the carrier of information between

(d) The efferent (motor) neuron carries the appropriate command from the spinal cord to the reacting muscle.

(e) The reacting muscle is called the effector organ.

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