What is foraminal stenosis?

When first hearing the name of this technical-sounding condition, patients often ask, “What is foraminal stenosis?” However, the term is easy to understand when its parts are explained individually. The term “stenosis” refers to a narrowing, while “foraminal” refers to the open spaces on either side of the spinal column through which spinal nerves travel as they branch off the spinal cord. As you might imagine, the narrowing of major nerve passageways can compress those nerves, causing pain and interruption of important nerve functions.

What causes of foraminal stenosis?

There are a number of spinal conditions that can cause the foramina to narrow. For instance, a herniated disc occurs when a spinal disc becomes weak, ruptures and releases its inner disc material into the spinal canal. A bulging disc occurs when a disc wall extends and pushes beyond its normal perimeter. Bone spurs are extra growths of smooth bone that the body produces in response to a weakened spine. All of these conditions can lead to the tissue expansion into spaces (foramina) normally occupied by nerve roots or the spinal cord, hence the narrowing known as foraminal stenosis.

The compression of nerve roots leads to symptoms such as pain, numbness, weakness, burning/tingling sensations or pins-and-needles sensations in the extremities. When this process involves multiple foramina (the plural of foramen), it is called foraminal stenosis. In other words, it is spinal stenosis that specifically affects multiple foramina.

What are the treatment options?

In a healthy spine, the nerve roots have plenty of space in the foramina and no pressure is created. The encroachment upon nerve root pathways over time can not only cause symptoms related to foraminal stenosis, but in extreme cases, could eventually cause nerve death and resulting loss of function if left untreated. Thus, though most cases of foraminal stenosis are not urgent, they certainly warrant examination and treatment. Most conservative treatment options offer little relief from severe symptoms. Behavioral changes (change of diet, exercise, etc.) and nonsurgical treatments like medication and physical therapy sometimes provide sufficient relief, but a high percentage of patients continue to experience symptoms.

If you experience severe foraminal stenosis symptoms and your physician has determined that surgery is the recommended treatment, consider Laser Spine Institute. We are the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery designed to treat degenerative spine ailments without the inherent risks and other drawbacks of conventional open back surgery. Our minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and do not require a lengthy and difficult recovery^ or unnecessary muscle tearing. Contact us today to arrange a review of your CT scan or MRI report for our team to determine if you are a candidate for one of our innovative procedures.