Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

General Spine News

Corking the Dike of Chronic Nerve Pain

Back pain with leg pain is often caused by a disc pressing against a nerve root in the low back. This occurs where the nerve leaves the spinal column. The condition is called lumbar radiculopathy. It is the number one cause of low back pain in adults. Some people have chronic pain over many years from this condition. Finding a treatment that works for this problem is the goal of many scientists.

The first step in treating this kind of back pain is to understand the cause of the pain. Whenever a body part is injured or damaged, the immune system works to repair it. One single event can trigger a series of responses in the body. This is like a single drop of water joining many other drops to form a waterfall. The effect is called a cascade.

The immune system has a cascade response to nerve root injury. The chemicals released to help heal the body are called neurotransmitters. These have an indirect effect on the nerve tissue.

Scientists now understand that there is a "bigger picture" to this healing response. Once the injury sets up the cascade, the overall nervous system takes part, too. White blood cells and many different neurotransmitters are quick to arrive at the site of damage.

Somehow, these chemicals are able to enter the spinal cord and affect the entire nervous system. This kind of broader cascade is referred to as a "central process." The final result is pain that doesn't go away.

How can this waterfall of events be stopped? The next step in discovery is to find out how the uptake of chemicals occurs. This in turn will direct scientists how to interrupt the cascade and keep chronic back and leg pain from happening.


Maria D. Rutkowski, BS, et al. Lumbar Nerve Root Injury Induces Central Nervous System Neuroimmune Activation and Neuroinflammation in the Rat. In Spine. August 1, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 15. Pp. 1604-1613.

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*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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