Foraminal encroachment means that degeneration in the spinal column has caused an obstruction of the foramina, which are the open spaces on either side of the vertebrae through which spinal nerves pass on their way to other parts of the body. As these neural passageways become blocked, it can force pressure on the nerves, which causes pain at the site of the impinged nerve, as well as symptoms that travel to the extremities.
This condition of foraminal encroachment, which goes by other names such as foraminal stenosis and spinal foraminal stenosis, can occur in any of the spinal regions: cervical (upper back and neck), thoracic (middle back), or lumbar (lower back). Generally, foraminal stenosis symptoms are unilateral, meaning they only occur on one side of the body, because it is often only one foramen on one side of the vertebrae that is affected. However, bilateral foraminal stenosis can also occur, in which foramina on both sides of the vertebrae are narrowed.
Foraminal stenosis causes may include any of the following:
- Herniated disc: an intervertebral disc ruptures and the inner jelly-like disc material (nucleus pulposus) extrudes into the spinal canal in the area of one or more foramina.
- Bulging disc: an intervertebral disc shifts and impinges on the foramen, contributing to foraminal encroachment.
- Degenerative disc disease: a condition due to aging during which intervertebral discs become thinner, drier, and more brittle, making them extremely prone to damage. Degenerative disc disease can often be a cause of herniated discs and bulging discs, both of which contribute to foraminal encroachment.
- Bone spurs: often referred to as osteophytes. These are extra growths of bone that your body produces as a way to reinforce the spine when it senses the spine has begun to degenerate. Unfortunately, bone spurs cause foraminal encroachment. Bone spurs are often brought on by arthritis of the spine.
There are a number of foraminal encroachment and foraminal stenosis treatments. Your physician may suggest a course of prescription or over-the-counter pain medication, mild exercise, rest, hot and cold packs, or anti-inflammatory steroid injections. If these conservative methods do not prove effective, your physician may also suggest foraminal stenosis surgery.
If this is the case, Laser Spine Institute is ready to talk to you about our minimally-invasive, endoscopic procedures as an alternative to traditional, open-back surgery. Remember, neck and back pain do not have to be a way of life. Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan.