Foraminal spinal stenosis is a condition that, if left untreated, can become severe and inhibit your normal daily activities. The spine is an important and complex mechanism of the body. While the spinal column acts as a protective shield for the spinal cord, sometimes the vertebrae, discs, and other spinal tissues can become injured or inflamed to the point that they press upon the spinal cord and its nerve roots.
Foraminal spinal stenosis, also known as foraminal stenosis, is an example of how the spinal column can deteriorate. “Stenosis” refers to the act of being narrowed, and “foraminal” refers to the foramina, or small spaces on either side of each vertebrae. “Foraminal spinal stenosis,” therefore, indicates the thinning or narrowing of spinal components. Generally, this narrowing occurs because the foramina become clogged or constricted by surrounding tissue, which is problematic because the foramina act as passageways for nerve roots to branch off the spinal cord and travel to other parts of the body. If these nerves are placed under excessive stress because their passage is impeded by a narrowed foramen, then that stress will be translated to the rest of the body as several uncomfortable – and sometimes incapacitating – symptoms.
Foraminal stenosis symptoms include pain in the affected region of the spine as well as pain, tingling, weakness, and numbness in other parts of the body. Severe cases of foraminal spinal stenosis also can include loss of reflexes and loss of balance. If bladder and bowel dysfunction develops, this could be a sign of a medical emergency called cauda equina syndrome that requires immediate treatment.
In most cases of foraminal spinal stenosis, the foramen on one side of the vertebra is affected, so the symptoms are felt on one side of the body. However, bilateral foraminal stenosis means that both sides of the body are affected because both the left and right-branching foramina have narrowed.
Foraminal spinal stenosis can present itself in several different regions of the spine. The most common type of foraminal stenosis is lumbar foraminal stenosis, which originates in the lower back. Foraminal cervical stenosis begins in the neck and upper back region, while thoracic spinal stenosis resides in the middle back.
Foraminal spinal stenosis is caused by a number of different issues, including:
- Disc degeneration due to aging
- Herniated disc, often called a slipped disc, which is a rupture that spills disc material into the spinal canal
- Bulging disc, which is a contained protuberance of disc material into the spinal canal
- Osteophytes, commonly referred to as bone spurs, which are excess bone growths along your spine
- Osteoporosis, a disorder in which the bones become brittle and vulnerable to breakage.
When you see your physician for a diagnosis, he or she may recommend moderate, conventional treatment options, such as mild stretching, physical therapy, rest, anti-inflammatory medications or steroidal injections. Maintaining a healthy weight and taking part in regular physical activity can also help with the treatment and prevention of foraminal spinal stenosis. If your symptoms become severe, your physician may recommend traditional open back surgery to open the passageways that have narrowed.
Laser Spine Institute provides an alternative to traditional open back surgery. Our surgeons use minimally invasive, state-of-the-art techniques to relieve pressure on spinal nerves and help you regain an active life. Contact Laser Spine Institute today to learn more about our procedures and to receive a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan.