The spinal nerves spring from the medulla spinalis, and are transmitted through the intervertebral foramina. They number thirty-one pairs, which are grouped as follows: Cervical, 8; Thoracic, 12; Lumbar, 5; Sacral, 5; Coccygeal, 1.

The first cervical nerve emerges from the vertebral canal between the occipital bone and the atlas, and is therefore called the suboccipital nerve; the eighth issues between the seventh cervical and first thoracic vertebræ.

Nerve Roots.—Each nerve is attached to the medulla spinalis by two roots, an anterioror ventral, and a posterior or dorsal, the latter being characterized by the presence of a ganglion, the spinal ganglion.

  • The Anterior Root (radix anterior; ventral root) emerges from the anterior surface of the medulla spinalis as a number of rootlets or filaments (fila radicularia), which coalesce to form two bundles near the intervertebral foramen.
  • The Posterior Root (radix posterior; dorsal root) is larger than the anterior owing to the greater size and number of its rootlets; these are attached along the posterolateral furrow of the medulla spinalis and unite to form two bundles which join the spinal ganglion. The posterior root of the first cervical nerve is exceptional in that it is smaller than the anterior; it is occasionally wanting.

The Spinal Ganglia (ganglion spinale) are collections of nerve cells on the posterior roots of the spinal nerves. Each ganglion is oval in shape, reddish in color, and its size bears a proportion to that of the nerve root on which it is situated; it is bifid medially where it is joined by the two bundles of the posterior nerve root. The ganglia are usually placed in the intervertebral foramina, immediately outside the points where the nerve roots perforate the dura mater, but there are exceptions to this rule; thus the ganglia of the first and second cervical nerves lie on the vertebral arches of the atlas and axis respectively, those of the sacral nerves are inside the vertebral canal, while that on the posterior root of the coccygeal nerve is placed within the sheath of dura mater.


Connections with Sympathetic.—Immediately beyond the spinal ganglion, the anterior and posterior nerve roots unite to form the spinal nerve which emerges through the intervertebral foramen. Each spinal nerve receives a branch (gray ramus communicans) from the adjacent ganglion of the sympathetic trunk, while the thoracic, and the first and second lumbar nerves each contribute a branch (white ramus communicans) to the adjoining sympathetic ganglion. The second, third, and fourth sacral nerves also supply white rami; these, however, are not connected with the ganglia of the sympathetic trunk, but run directly into the pelvic plexuses of the sympathetic.


Structure.—Each typical spinal nerve contains fibers belonging to two systems, viz., the somatic, and the sympathetic or splanchnic, as well as fibers connecting these systems with each other.


Divisions.—After emerging from the intervertebral foramen, each spinal nerve gives off a small meningeal branch which reënters the vertebral canal through the intervertebral foramen and supplies the vertebræ and their ligaments, and the bloodvessels of the medulla spinalis and its membranes. The spinal nerve then splits into a posterior or dorsal, and an anterior or ventral division, each receiving fibres from both nerve roots.

This definition incorporates text from a public domain edition of Gray's Anatomy (20th U.S. edition of Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, published in 1918 – from


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