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The Nerve Supply of the Lumbar Intervertebral Disc

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The anatomical studies, basic to our understanding of lumbar spine innervation through the sinu-vertebral nerves, are reviewed. Research in the 1980s suggested that pain sensation was conducted in part via the sympathetic system. These sensory pathways have now been clarified using sophisticated experimental and histochemical techniques confirming a dual pattern. One route enters the adjacent dorsal root segmentally, whereas the other supply is non-segmental ascending through the paravertebral sympathetic chain with re-entry through the thoracolumbar white rami communicantes.

Sensory nerve endings in the degenerative lumbar disc penetrate deep into the disrupted nucleus pulposus, insensitive in the normal lumbar spine. Complex as well as free nerve endings would appear to contribute to pain transmission.

The nature and mechanism of discogenic pain is still speculative but there is growing evidence to support a ‘visceral pain’ hypothesis, unique in the muscloskeletal system. This mechanism is open to ‘peripheral sensitisation’ and possibly ‘central sensitisation’ as a potential cause of chronic back pain.

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