A foraminotomy is a type of spine surgery that aims to widen the foramina of the spine, which is the narrow funnel through which nerve roots exit the spinal canal. When certain spine conditions, such as spinal stenosis, cause the foramina to narrow, the nerve roots can become compressed, resulting in pain and other symptoms of discomfort. This often occurs in the lumbar spine (lower back), though it may occur in the cervical spine (neck) as well.

The purpose of a foraminotomy is to widen the foraminal canal by removing a portion of the spine that is damaged or out of alignment and causing the walls of the foramina to narrow. For example, if a disc in the spine bulges and moves into the spinal canal, the space for the nerve roots to travel out of the canal becomes narrowed. The foraminotomy surgery would remove a portion of the bulging disc in order to maintain adequate space in the foramina for the nerve roots to travel without getting pinched.

Types of foraminotomy surgery available

There are two different surgical approaches for widening the foramina — the foraminotomy and the foraminectomy. While the goal of a foraminotomy is to remove as little tissue as possible and thus protect the structural integrity of the spine, a foraminectomy involves a large amount of bone and tissue removal. In either case, before closing the incision surgeons may deem it necessary to perform a spinal fusion to increase stability in the spinal column.

During a traditional foraminotomy or foraminectomy, the surgeon will make a large incision in the back that detaches the muscles surrounding the spine. This highly invasive approach to the spine creates an unnecessary increase in risk for infection, complication and excessive blood loss. Once the spine is accessed, the surgeon will remove a small portion of or the entire damaged disc or vertebra to widen the foraminal canal. If the entire disc or vertebra is removed, the surgeon will insert a small metal cage to fuse together the two surrounding vertebrae to stabilize the spine.

This type of fusion limits mobility in the affected area of the spine and increases the risk of failed back surgery syndrome if the body rejects the metal fusion.

Laser Spine Institute performs outpatient foraminotomy surgeries through a minimally invasive approach. Like all of our procedures, our foraminotomy is minimally invasive. During the procedure, the surgeon accesses the spine through a small incision without touching the surrounding muscles and soft tissue. Once the surgeon reaches the spine, the surgeon will remove a small portion of the damaged disc or vertebra. In more severe cases, the surgeon may remove the entire damaged disc or vertebra, replacing it with an artificial disc or bone graft. This more natural approach to spinal stabilization helps the spine to maintain its normal function and movement after surgery.

Our minimally invasive techniques reduce the risk of complications and recovery time* associated with traditional open back surgical approaches to foraminotomy and foraminectomy. At Laser Spine Institute, more than 60 percent of patients report improvement at three months after their surgery, and some patients report improvement the same day of surgery.

If you are experiencing severe and limiting neck or back pain and your physician believes you would be a good candidate for back surgery, consider one of the minimally invasive procedures offered at Laser Spine Institute. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and review your MRI or CT scan to determine if you are a candidate for surgery. To learn more, contact us today.