Our body is made up of many complex mechanisms. The nervous system and the spinal cord are examples of such complicated body systems.
The spinal cord extends downwards from the brainstem, and the spinal nerves that help to operate much of the human body originate from the 31 different segments of the spinal cord.
Cervical Enlargement: What It Is And What It Does?
For medical convenience, the 31 spinal segments are grouped into 5 main regions- the cervical, the thoracic, the lumbar, the sacral and the coccygeal.
The cervical region of the spinal cord has 8 corresponding cervical nerves numbered from C1 to C8.
The cervical enlargement of the spinal cord is the part of the spinal cord from where the nerves supplying the upper limbs and brachial plexus originate.
What is the cervical enlargement of the spinal cord?
In our body, two specific regions of the spinal cord are slightly enlarged. This is so that it can accommodate a large number of nerve cells required to process all the information regarding the upper limbs (arms) and the lower limbs (legs).
The cervical enlargement is one of a pair of symmetrical enlargements that are seen in the segments of the limb plexuses. The lumbosacral enlargement in the segments for the lumbar and sacral plexuses forms the pair to the cervical enlargement.
The cervical enlargement occupies the spinal segmental levels from the C5 to T1. In the vertebral column, it extends from C3 to T1/T2.
This difference is because of the difference in length between the spinal cord and the vertebral column. The spinal cord is a little shorter than the vertebral column.
The cervical enlargement reaches its maximum width of nearly 38 mm at the C6 vertebral level.
Structure of the cervical enlargement of the spinal cord
- The motor neurons which stimulate the muscles of the body’s upper limbs are located posteriorly in the anterior grey column of the cervical enlargement
- The motor neurons for the distal muscles of the hand are situated even posteriorly to those for the upper limbs in the anterior grey column
Why does cervical enlargement occur?
The increased volume of motor cells in the ventral horns of the grey matter leads to the formation of cervical enlargement.
Location and function of the lumbosacral enlargement
The lumbosacral enlargement, also commonly called the lumbar enlargement, is seen in the spinal segments between L2 and S3.
The lumbar and sacral nerves emerging from the lumbar enlargement form the cuada equina.
The spinal cord is shorter than the vertebral column, so lumbar and sacral nerves run through the vertebral column for a short distance. When they emerge out of the vertebral column they form a bundle of nerve roots called the cauda equina.
The cauda equine is important in medical science because of its use in the medical procedure called lumbar puncture.
The lumbar puncture is used to collect cerebrospinal fluid to look for different infections and ailment in the body.
The cauda equina is also the part of the body where patients are injected to put them under local anesthesia without risk of any damage to the spinal cord.
How to avoid spinal injuries
Damage to the spinal cord, whether it be cervical enlargement, lumbar enlargement or any other segments, can lead to pain, paralysis and any many other forms of physical disabilities.
Some of the most common causes of spinal injuries and their preventive measures are:
- It is very important to drive carefully within safe driving limits, without the influence of any intoxicants. Most spinal cord injuries usually happen due to vehicular accidents.
- Another common cause of spinal cord injuries is driving accidents. It is important to always check the depth of a water body before diving in.
- Sports-related injuries can also cause damage to the spinal cord. All essential sports gear and safety equipment should be used by players.
- Older people are also prone to spinal injuries resulting from sudden falls. So their caregivers must try to make their homes safe and free of tripping hazards.
Doctors are studying the spinal cord in-depth to treat, reverse and manage different spinal injuries and spinal diseases.
The cervical enlargement is one of the most important parts of the spinal cord, and damage to it can have devastating consequences for the body.
Understanding cervical enlargement and its functions are essential for doctors to come up with plans for preventing and treating injuries to the cervical region of the spinal cord.