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What is Foraminal Narrowing?


By Michael Perry M.D.

What is Foraminal Narrowing?

One question you may find yourself asking a physician if you are living with chronic neck or back pain is, “What is foraminal narrowing?” The short answer is this: Foraminal narrowing is a reduction in the space available for nerve roots to branch off the spinal cord and exit the spinal column. However, that answer will only suffice if you understand the relationship between the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) and the rest of the spinal anatomy. Essentially, at every vertebral level of the spine, a pair of nerve roots branch off the spinal cord and pass through openings, or apertures, called foramina (singular: foramen). These openings can become constricted due to degenerative spine conditions, such as a bone spur or a herniated disc, or through injury. This narrowing, or stenosis, only becomes symptomatic if one of the nerve roots is irritated or compressed by the narrowing.

Risk factors for foraminal narrowing

Who is at risk for foraminal narrowing? In general terms, people who are susceptible to deterioration of the joints and discs of the spine. Risk factors include:

  • Degenerative diseases – osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease can reduce space available for nerve roots.
  • Genetics – an inherited condition may limit space available for neural components of the spine.
  • Age – people 50 or older are more susceptible to foraminal narrowing.
  • Obesity – excess weight places undue stress on the spinal anatomy.
  • One’s profession – people whose professions require working with heavy loads, long periods of sitting or standing or repetitive movements of the neck or back are susceptible to degenerative spinal conditions.

Treatment for foraminal narrowing

If foraminal narrowing leads to nerve compression, it can produce symptoms such as localized pain, radiating pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness. To manage these symptoms, a physician might initially recommend trying conservative methods of treatment, including pain medication, exercise and/or corticosteroid injections. If chronic symptoms persist after several weeks of conservative treatments, surgery may become an option. If this is the case, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the many benefits of our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures, which are performed using state-of-the-art technology. Our orthopedic surgeons have helped tens of thousands of patients find relief from neck and back pain.

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