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Foraminal stenosis

Definition of foraminal stenosis

Foraminal stenosis describes the narrowing of one or more foramina, or foraminal canals, within the spine. Each vertebra in the spine forms a foraminal space on either side that allows nerve roots to extend from the spinal cord out to the rest of the body. When a spinal condition causes this space to narrow, it can compress the nerve root and create a series of painful symptoms.

How foraminal stenosis is diagnosed

A doctor can confirm a case of foraminal stenosis by using an imaging test such as an MRI or X-ray. This can provide detailed information on the precise location and extent of the narrowing, allowing a doctor to determine the best course of action for treatment.

Causes of foraminal stenosis

There are many conditions that can affect the spine and result in foraminal narrowing. Some of the more common spinal conditions associated with this type of narrowing include:

  • Bone spurs
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • A bulging or herniated disc
  • Degenerative disc disease

These spinal conditions can develop as a natural part of the aging process as the discs and vertebrae gradually deteriorate over time, or they can occur as a result of an injury or sudden trauma to the spine.

Symptoms of foraminal stenosis

Symptoms occur when the narrowing of the space ends up compressing or irritating the nerve root that passes through it. This can result in:

  • Constant or intermittent pain at the site of the compressed nerve
  • A burning or shooting pain that radiates out to an extremity
  • Muscle weakness, tingling or numbness along the affected nerve pathway

Foraminal narrowing can occur anywhere along the spine, and the location of the compressed nerve will determine where symptoms are experienced. For example, narrowing that occurs in the cervical (upper) spine may affect the shoulders or arms, while narrowing in the lumbar (lower) spine may affect the buttocks or legs.

Treatment for foraminal stenosis

After confirming that foraminal stenosis is the cause of these symptoms, a doctor will likely start by recommending conservative treatment methods. This may include stretching and strengthening exercises, behavior modification training and corticosteroid injections. If symptoms do not subside over time with conservative treatments, the next option to consider may be surgery.

Foraminal stenosis surgery

Laser Spine Institute in Philadelphia specializes in minimally invasive spinal procedures, which require a smaller incision and can spare more surrounding muscle and tissue than traditional open surgery. At all of our centers, these outpatient procedures have helped more than 75,000 patients find the relief they need from neck and back pain caused by spinal conditions.

If you’d like to find out if you’re a candidate for a minimally invasive procedure to treat foraminal stenosis, contact Laser Spine Institute to receive a no-cost MRI review.*