31 pairs of spinal nerves make up the spinal cord.
The brain communicates with the rest of the body through the spinal nerves and the cranial nerves, which are really extensions of the brain itself. They leave the skull and enter the body in essentially two ways.
The cranial nerves travel through the bony labyrinth of the skull to innervate the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, face, throat, respiratory tract, and heart, as well as the digestive tract down to the first third of the colon (large intestine).
The spinal nerves leave the skull via the spinal cord, the highway of the nervous system. This spinal cord is encased (and protected) by the vertebral column, commonly referred to as the spine. The spine is made up of 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, and 5 lumbar vertebrae, as well as the sacrum (5 fused vertebrae) and the coccyx (4 little bones fused together; really our vestigial tail).
Just like on a highway or freeway, there are exits (on and off ramps) for the spinal nerves to leave the spinal cord and enter the body (as the motor nerves), or to leave the body to enter the spinal cord (as the sensory nerves). They do so, one pair at a time, through the vertebral foramina, which are openings in the vertebral column, between the vertebrae.
There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves: 8 cervical (C1 – C8), 12 thoracic (T1 – T12), 5 lumbar (L1 – L5), 5 sacral (S1 – S5), and one coccigeal nerve. The first pair (C1) exits between the skull (occiput) and the first cervical (neck) vertebrae. Hence, there are eight pairs of cervical spinal nerves but only seven cervical vertebrae. The second cervical pair exits between C1 and C2 (here the numbers refer to the vertebrae), the third between C2 and C3, the eighth one between C7 and T1, and so forth.
Pressure on the spinal nerves can cause symptoms throughout the body.
Just like the cranial nerves have to penetrate the meninges lining the skull cavity on their way out of the skull, the spinal nerves have to pierce the meninges that cover the spinal cord in order to leave or enter the spinal cord.
The meninges are fused around the beginning of the spinal nerves (spinal nerve roots), covering them like the sleeves of a T-shirt (also referred to as meningeal sleeves). Thus, muscle tension, distortion of connective tissue (fascia, ligaments, tendons, meninges), or misaligned vertebrae near the spinal nerves where they exit or enter the spinal cord may create pressure or traction on the spinal nerves and impair their function. Since the spinal nerves innervate every tissue from the neck down, and also merge via the spinal cord with the brain, the symptoms may vary from few to many, and vary in quality and type.
Moreover, since the meninges that cover the brain and spinal cord as one unit attach to the bottom of the sacrum via the filum terminale, to the first and second neck vertebrae, and to the inside of the skull, a fall on the buttocks can send shock waves via the cerebrospinal fluid all the way up to the head. The same fall may also affect any of the vertebrae in the vertebral column, and compress or stretch any of the spinal nerves coming out of the spinal cord or entering it.
In conclusion, any tension along the spine can cause varied symptoms.
A fall on the bum, or trauma to the head or the spine, or simply long term muscle tension anywhere along the spine, can result in symptoms as varied as digestive issues, nausea, vomiting, urinary tract issues, difficulty swallowing, impaired breathing, headaches, clouded thinking, memory issues, mood changes, vision problems, difficulty with movement of any part of the body, and various aches or pains, among others. While the body appears to recover from all sorts of small and big accidents throughout life, its tissues become distorted over time and may hold this distortion, manifesting in chronic pain or discomfort. Here’s where craniosacral therapy can do wonders for you.
Craniosacral therapy helps the body to release the connective tissue restrictions for improved blood and lymph circulation, increased energy, improved nerve conduction, greater mobility and freedom of movement, less pain, and improved overall health.
What holds the body’s tissues in this distortion? The connective tissue. In my next post, we explore various types of connective tissue that are found in our bodies.