It has been thought that lumbar intervertebral discs were innervated segmentally. We have previously shown that the L5-L6 intervertebral disc in the rat is innervated bilaterally from the L1 and L2 dorsal root ganglia through the paravertebral sympathetic trunks, but the pathways between the disc and the paravertebral sympathetic trunks were unknown.
We have now studied the spines of 17 rats to elucidate the exact pathways. We examined serial sections of the lumbar spine using immunohistochemistry for calcitonin gene-related peptide, a sensory nerve marker. We showed that these nerve fibres from the intervertebral disc ran through the sinuvertebral nerve into the rami communicantes, not into the corresponding segmental spinal nerve.
In the rat, sensory information from the lumbar intervertebral discs is conducted through rami communicantes. If this innervation pattern applies to man, simple decompression of the corresponding nerve root will not relieve discogenic pain. Anterior interbody fusion, with the denervation of rami communicantes, may be effective for such low back pain.
- Received August 4, 1997.
- Accepted January 8, 1998.
- © 1998 British Editorial Society of Bone and Joint Surgery