The nerves of your leg do something that’s nearly impossible. If there were a Guinness World Record for “action at a distance,” the motor neurons of your low back would be in line for it.
A teensy weensie nerve cell – the motor neuron – lives in the spinal cord in the upper part of your low back. It’s so tiny you couldn’t see it with your naked eye – it’s less than 6 hundredths of a millimeter across.
That teeny cell controls a long skinny extension (called the axon) that grows out of it. The axon gets bundled together with zillions of other axons to form the sciatic nerve.
As a component of the sciatic nerve, the individual axon reaches from the spinal cord all the way down to control your big toe – about three feet away.
Proportionally speaking, that’s comparable to you standing in Times Square and reaching out a long finger to control what’s going on in White Plains, dozens of miles away.
The motor neuron does far more than just transmit an electrical nerve signal as far as White Plains. It also keeps nourishment and hormonal signals flowing all the way out there, repairs damage as it occurs, provides immune system support, and supplies everything else the finger needs to continue as an integrated living body part.
And that’s the easy part
There are hazards galore that the sciatic nerve has to avoid while it’s doing its job of controlling the muscles of your big toe.
- Your body can bend and stretch in any direction, causing straining or kinking of the nerve.
- The nerve has to pass through many muscles and connective tissue sheaths, any one of which could tighten or swell to put undue pressure on the nerve.
- The discs of the low back could bulge out, putting pressure on the nerve just as it emerges from the spine.
- Your minerals could be out of balance, with too much (or too little) sodium, magnesium, calcium, or potassium disturbing the nerve’s peace.
- Poor nutrition could starve the nerve cell at its core in the spinal cord, and make it a challenge to keep sending chemical signals along its long axon.
- Impaired blood flow could leave the end of the nerve short of energy, oxygen, or other nutrients.
How does the nerve cell perform its nearly-impossible task while coping with these potential hazards?
Brilliant biological design – the basis of health
Before you ever experience a symptom, much less phone your doctor’s office for an appointment, the health process is already hard at work inside you. Internal rebuilding and repair goes on all the time without you even noticing.
Without the robust reparative nature of your biological systems, you’d be toast.
But fortunately for you, you have million years of evolutionary optimization built into your body. The redundancies, contingency plans and control systems are exceedingly subtle and complex — far beyond what science has so far been able to grasp. Nobel Prizes in Medicine and Physiology will still be waiting to be won a thousand years from now.
One could say that scientists have only deciphered the first few pages of a long, long Russian novel.
It’s not the pills you take, your physical therapist, acupuncturist, or even your doctor of chiropractic. The cure for sciatic pain is already at work, automatically, inside you.
That’s the reason why your sciatic nerve performs just fine almost all of the time.
Deepen Your Body of Knowledge
More on homeostatic control systems
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