Anatomy of the spinal nerves and dermatomes

  • Harold Ellis
    Harold Ellis CBE MCh FRCS was a Professor of Surgery at Westminster Medical School until 1989. Since then he has taught anatomy, first in Cambridge and now at Guy's Hospital, London, UK. Conflicts of interest: none declared
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      There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves: eight cervical, 12 thoracic, five lumbar, five sacral and one coccygeal. They form by fusion of a posterior sensory spinal root (bearing its posterior root ganglion) with an anterior motor root. These join at each intervertebral foramen. Typically, the nerve then divides into a posterior and an anterior primary ramus. The former supplies the vertebral muscles and dorsal skin. The anterior primary ramus in the thoracic region bears a white ramus communicans to the sympathetic ganglion. Each spinal nerve receives a grey ramus from the sympathetic chain. The nerves T2–T12 supply the skin and muscles of the trunk sequentially. The other nerves are arranged into the cervical, brachial, lumbar and sacral plexuses. The cervical plexus supplies the skin and anterior muscles of the neck and form the phrenic nerve (C3–C5), while the brachial plexus supplies the skin and muscles of the upper limb, and the lumbar and sacral plexuses supply the skin of the lower limb and perineum and the muscles of the posterior abdominal wall, pelvis, perineum and lower limb. The segmental nerves are arranged to supply the skin (dermatomes), while the segmental supply to the limb muscles, the myotomes, is more complex.


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