Foraminal narrowing affects the foraminal canals – the small passageways between adjacent vertebrae in the spine that allow for spinal nerves to exit into the spinal canal. These spaces are present between every pair of vertebrae in the cervical (upper), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) areas of the spine.
Definition of foraminal narrowing
Foraminal narrowing — or foraminal stenosis — occurs when the space that allows nerve roots to pass through a spinal foramen is reduced or obstructed. This narrowing will not always produce symptoms, but if the nerves traveling through the foramen are compressed, they could send signals along their pathways which result in pain or other symptoms for the patient.
How foraminal narrowing is diagnosed
If a patient is suffering from symptoms they believe could be related to foraminal narrowing, the first step is to consult with a physician who can provide a diagnosis. The consultation will begin with a medical history, which is followed by a physical exam to look for pain, limitations of movement or other potential symptoms, including loss of reflexes. If foraminal stenosis is suspected, the physician may recommend an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to help confirm the diagnosis.
The causes of foraminal narrowing
The development of foraminal narrowing can most often be attributed to the gradual breakdown of the spine that occurs due to the natural aging process and the constant stress the spine endures. This can lead to a variety of different conditions which can contribute to foraminal stenosis, such as bulging or herniated discs, bone spurs, facet joint enlargement and more. Other factors, such as injury, obesity or a job that includes repetitive movements, can also speed foraminal narrowing.
Foraminal narrowing symptoms
When foraminal narrowing is causing a nerve root to experience abnormal pressure, a variety of symptoms, such as localized or radiating pain, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling, can appear. Symptoms can be experienced in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, lower back, hips, buttocks, legs and feet, depending on the area of the spine that is being affected.
Treatments for foraminal narrowing
Nonsurgical treatments for foraminal narrowing that may be prescribed by a physician, such as rest, pain medications, stretching, hot/cold therapy and strengthening exercises, can often provide relief from symptoms and allow patients to resume their normal activities. In some cases, patients may also explore alternative treatments, such as yoga, massage therapy or chiropractic care, to find relief.
Surgery for foraminal narrowing
Typically, conservative treatment methods are successful in managing the pain, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling that can manifest when a patient has been diagnosed with foraminal narrowing. However, in cases where symptoms don’t respond to other treatments, surgery may be an option to consider. Many physicians may recommend traditional open back surgery, but the large incisions used during these procedures can result in extended recovery times and significant time away from work.
At Laser Spine Institute, our minimally invasive surgery offers muscle-sparing techniques, resulting in a shorter recovery time^ compared to traditional open spine surgery. Our outpatient surgery can treat a full range of spinal conditions for patients in the Cincinnati area, including foraminal narrowing. Contact us today for a no-cost MRI review* to find out if you’re a candidate for our procedures.