Wednesday, July 8

Schematics For The Human Body

In my chosen profession, wiring diagrams are what I live for. Seeing an overview of how things are put together is paramount in understanding how everything works. So, too, the human body. Muscles, ligaments, bones, you name it. All are put together in such a way that boggles the mind.

Not being one to self-diagnose, I never would have imagined prior to my spinal surgery just how much goes on in ones' spinal cord. Admittedly, I never even knew how the spine works. As an example, I had always believed the spinal cord traveled through the discs, leading to herniated discs. That's not the case. Rather, the spinal cord travels through the vertebrae, and the discs are located behind the spinal cord:
In the image above, the spinal cord passes through the "Vertebral foramen", while the disc is located in the oval shaped depression at the top of the image. The nerve bundle attached to the spinal cord passes through the transverse foramen.1

In my case, enough degeneration had occurred in the disc between my C6 and C7 vertebrae (C7 is shown above) such that the disc had herniated and was pressing against the right-hand nerve bundle.

So far so good, but just how does one know - from a layperson's perspective - where that nerve bundle goes? And how does it affect the body?

I knew what my symptoms were, and was a bit surprised that the doctor knew exactly what the problem was without seeing my MRI. After meeting him and again explaining what my symptoms were, he stopped me before I got too far ahead of myself, and basically explained "I know how you're wired and you don't."

At that point, I put my neck - literally - in his hands.

In my exile these past months (I return to work the 13th), I frequently wondered about the wiring diagram; surely this information would be available somewhere. Not to self-diagnose myself, since I'd already had my surgery, but just to see if I could find that elusive wiring diagram. And finally found the term that I'd been searching for. As is often the case, you know what you're looking for, you just don't know what it's called.

Friends, it's called a dermatome (click the image for a larger view):

From Wikipedia: "Dermatomes are useful in neurology for finding the site of damage to the spine."

I only wish I'd known about dermatomes long ago; I'd had a dull pain in my hand for several years, and the whole time it had been a herniating disc, exacerbated by the events of a couple months ago.

And now you, too, have a reference point for finding out how you are wired.

1 Disclaimer: I am NOT a physician. Nor will I ever be. This information is not to be construed as legitimate medical information. The opinions presented here are my own. If you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, don't contact me - call a doctor. Really. If you're having a major problem, getting on the internet isn't in your best interest.

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