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Foraminal narrowing

What is foraminal narrowing?

Foraminal narrowing, also called foraminal stenosis, is a spinal condition in which one or more of the openings between two vertebrae is encroached upon. These openings are known as foramina or foraminal canals, and they serve as passageways for nerve roots that extend out from the spinal column. Therefore, anything that causes this space to narrow can result in irritation or compression of a nerve, leading to a range of uncomfortable symptoms.

Diagnosing foraminal narrowing

Because there are many different conditions that affect the spine, it’s important to consult with a doctor to receive an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor will likely review your medical history and may recommend an X-ray, MRI or another imaging test to confirm that foraminal stenosis is the cause of your symptoms.

Foraminal narrowing causes

The vertebrae and discs that make up the spine gradually deteriorate over years of constant wear and tear. Foraminal stenosis is often the result of another condition that develops in the spine as a natural part of the aging process. Some of the spinal conditions that can cause foraminal narrowing include:

  • A bulging or herniated disc — A spinal disc can protrude or extrude into the foraminal space
  • Degenerative disc disease — A spinal disc can flatten or compress over time, reducing the amount of foraminal space
  • Bone spurs — Small growths of bone on the vertebrae can grow along the edges of the foramina, causing the available space to narrow
  • Spondylolisthesis — A vertebra that slips out of place onto another vertebra can greatly decrease the foraminal space depending on how far it slips

Aside from the natural deterioration of the spine, injuries are another cause of spinal conditions that can lead to foraminal stenosis. A compression injury or fractured vertebrae can result in displacements within the spine that narrow the foraminal canal.

Symptoms of foraminal narrowing

Foraminal narrowing will only cause noticeable symptoms if a nerve passing through that space is compressed or irritated. When this occurs, symptoms may include chronic pain at the site of the compressed nerve as well as muscle weakness, spasms, tingling or numbness along the nerve pathway. Therefore, the location of these symptoms will depend on which nerve is compressed. If foraminal stenosis occurs in the cervical (upper) spine, the nerve pain may extend through one or both arms. Likewise, a compressed nerve in the lumbar (lower) spine, may result in symptoms that travel down one or both of the legs.

Foraminal narrowing treatments

It’s important to consult a doctor when experiencing chronic back pain or any other symptoms that may be related to a spinal condition. An accurate diagnosis is the first step in finding an effective treatment for these symptoms. After confirming a case of foraminal stenosis, a doctor will likely start by recommending conservative treatments. These commonly include over-the-counter pain medications, hot/cold compresses and physical therapy.

Some patients may explore alternative options as well, including yoga, chiropractic manipulation and acupuncture, to help find relief from their symptoms. In many cases, a combination of conservative treatment methods is sufficient in relieving pain and discomfort.

Surgery for foraminal narrowing

When conservative treatment options have been exhausted without providing adequate symptom relief, surgery may be considered. At Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia, we specialize in minimally invasive spine surgery that require only a small incision and muscle-sparing techniques. Compared with traditional open spine surgery, our minimally invasive spine surgery offers a shorter recovery time^ and a lower risk of complication.

To learn more about the minimally invasive spine surgery for foraminal narrowing at Laser Spine Institute contact us today for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a candidate.