A dermatome is an anatomical term that refers to a single nerve causing sensation on the skin. It is a point on the skin that will provide the feeling for that part of the body. Another way to think of a dermatome is basically an area of the skin that connects to the spinal column to provide sensory data to the brain. In the body there are thirty nerves, and from there they are sub grouped and named to correspond to different parts of the spine. Dermatome groups relay sensations, including pain sensations, from different regions of the skin to the brain.
Dermatome groups are lumped together by different parts of the body. They have different shapes and are supplied by a different spinal nerve. There are eight cervical nerves, twelve thoracic nerves, five lumbar nerves and five sacral nerves. They are shaped differently as well. For example along the abdomen a dermatome group is stacked together like discs and along the leg they run longitudinally along the limbs. Although dermatome groups are similar from person to person, the precise areas that these nerves end up at are quite unique for each individual. The pattern in each person is as unique as a fingerprint.
Knowledge of dermatome placement is helpful for neurologists in finding damage to the spine. Pain is a symptom of something being wrong in the body, and pain in a dermatome means that there is an underlying problem. The type of pain felt helps to determine what ailment is afflicting someone. For example an aching pain in an area indicates a lack of oxygen to the nerve and also could include inflammation of the affected area. Dermatome pain that is not accompanied by heat, as would usually be found in an infection, is usually indicative of another type of problem. For example a compressed spinal nerve will also have a loss of motor skills but might not have any effect on the skin. A herpes shingle on the other hand will have painful areas of the dermatome. Either way, it takes years of education to study these nerve endings.
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