Background: The mechanisms subserving deep spinal pain have not been studied as well as those related to the skin and to deep pain in peripheral limb structures. The clinical phenomenology of deep spinal pain presents unique features which call for investigations which can explain these at a mechanistic level.
Methods: Targeted searches of the literature were conducted and the relevant materials reviewed for applicability to the thesis that deep spinal pain is distinctive from deep pain in the peripheral limb structures. Topics related to the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of deep spinal pain were organized in a hierarchical format for content review.
Results: Since the 1980's the innervation characteristics of the spinal joints and deep muscles have been elucidated. Afferent connections subserving pain have been identified in a distinctive somatotopic organization within the spinal cord whereby afferents from deep spinal tissues terminate primarily in the lateral dorsal horn while those from deep peripheral tissues terminate primarily in the medial dorsal horn. Mechanisms underlying the clinical phenomena of referred pain from the spine, poor localization of spinal pain and chronicity of spine pain have emerged from the literature and are reviewed here, especially emphasizing the somatotopic organization and hyperconvergence of dorsal horn "low back (spinal) neurons". Taken together, these findings provide preliminary support for the hypothesis that deep spine pain is different from deep pain arising from peripheral limb structures.
Conclusions: This thesis addressed the question "what is different about spine pain?" Neuroanatomic and neurophysiologic findings from studies in the last twenty years provide preliminary support for the thesis that deep spine pain is different from deep pain arising from peripheral limb structures.
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