One question you may find yourself asking a doctor if you suffer from 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 exit the spinal cord. 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. Basically, 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 because of degenerative spine conditions, such as a bone spur or a herniated disc, or through traumatic injury. This narrowing, or stenosis, is only symptomatic if one of the nerve roots becomes irritated or compressed by an anatomical abnormality.
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:
- Age – people 50 or older are more susceptible.
- Obesity – excess weight places undue stress on the spinal anatomy.
- 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.
- Active profession – people whose professions require working with heavy loads are susceptible to 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 doctor may initially recommend trying conservative methods of treatment, including pain medication, exercise, and/or corticosteroid injections. If chronic symptoms persist after several weeks of conservative treatment, surgery may become an option. If this is the case, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the many benefits of a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed using revolutionary endoscopic technology. Our orthopedic experts have helped tens of thousands of patients rediscover their lives without back and neck pain.