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Foraminal stenosis overview

Foraminal stenosis is a spine condition that describes the narrowing of the foraminal canals — the small passageways on both sides of the vertebrae that allow nerves to travel from the spinal cord to the spinal canal. This condition is often degenerative in nature, developing naturally as the spine changes with age.

For some people, foraminal stenosis may develop and not present any symptoms. This is because symptoms are only present when a nerve becomes trapped within the narrowing canals — which isn’t impossible when considering the naturally narrow diameter of the foraminal canals. However, if a nerve does become pinched due to foraminal stenosis, there are many nonsurgical and surgical treatments available to help patients find pain relief.

Causes of foraminal stenosis

Foraminal stenosis is often a result of the natural weakening of the spine with age. Over the years, as the spine deteriorates, certain spinal components can begin to change shape and position. Though these changes are slight and often develop gradually, they can impact the structure of the foraminal canals and potentially pinch a nerve root.

An example of foraminal stenosis caused by a degenerative condition is a bulging disc that presses into the foraminal canal. The discs in the spine are responsible for supporting the vertebrae and absorbing the impact of daily movements and activities. Over the years, continual movement and gradual weight gain can place stress on the discs, causing them to bulge. When a bulging disc occurs, it can move out of its normal alignment within the spine and press into the free space within the nearest foraminal canal, making it difficult for nerves to pass through.

Other examples of degenerative conditions that can cause foraminal stenosis include:

  • Herniated disc
  • Bone spur
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Facet disease

In some cases, foraminal stenosis may be caused by a sudden trauma or injury, such as a sports injury or auto accident, among others.

For some, foraminal stenosis is only recognized when a nerve is compressed within the narrowing canal. When this happens, symptoms of pain may develop in the foraminal canal and other associated parts of the body.

Symptoms of foraminal stenosis

Often, patients are not aware of the development of foraminal stenosis until symptoms appear. When a nerve root becomes pinched within the canal, one or more of the following symptoms are likely to develop:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Limited mobility
  • Burning sensation
  • Stiffness

These symptoms can appear at the site of the compressed nerve and/or radiate along the nerve pathway. If the symptoms develop along the nerve pathway, they can present themselves in areas like the arms and hands or legs and feet, depending on the location of the foraminal stenosis.

Diagnosing foraminal stenosis

If these symptoms develop, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to diagnose your condition.

Diagnosing foraminal stenosis often means diagnosing the condition that is causing your foraminal canal to narrow, e.g. a herniated disc, bone spur or another spine condition. To do this, your doctor will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms, medical history and daily activities. Then, he or she will perform a physical evaluation to determine the location of your pain and if radiating symptoms are present.

In some cases, your doctor will order an imaging test — either an MRI test or CT scan — to more accurately view your spine condition and determine what is pinching your nerve. Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will recommend treatment for your foraminal stenosis.

Treatment for foraminal stenosis

Treatment for any degenerative spine condition, including foraminal stenosis, often begins conservatively. Your doctor will likely recommend a combination of two or more of the following common nonsurgical treatments to help relieve your pain:

  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Low-impact exercises
  • Stretches and yoga
  • Weight loss
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Corticosteroid injections

These treatments typically take several months before lasting relief can be experienced. While many patients find conservative treatment to be an effective method of pain relief, not every patient will benefit from these therapies. Some patients may require spine surgery to treat foraminal stenosis.

Surgery for foraminal stenosis can be performed through traditional open back procedures or minimally invasive procedures. At Laser Spine Institute, we offer patients a minimally invasive alternative to traditional open back surgery. Our procedures use a smaller incision, allowing our patients to experience a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication compared to traditional open spine surgery.

To treat foraminal stenosis, we offer minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures that focus on removing the pressure from the pinched nerve within the foraminal canal. The type of procedure used will largely depend on the cause of the narrowed foraminal canal.

Find out if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive procedures by contacting Laser Spine Institute today and requesting a no-cost MRI review .*