Dermatomes are strips of skin which are supplied by the nerve roots. If there is numbness or pain along a dermatome, it is a sign of damage or irritation of a specific nerve root, where the root exits the spinal cord and vertebral column. This is known as radiculopathy.
Soon after the cervical and lumbosacral nerves leave the cord, they join and separate several times (plexi) before reaching their target organs. Nerve fibers to a given muscle may come from several different nerve roots. The skin sensory supply, however, remains directly associated with the root alone.
Radicular pain usually occurs with compression of the nerve in the foramen, the hole by which the nerve exits the spinal canal.