Aging: Chief among the Causes of Foraminal Narrowing

Foraminal narrowing is directly caused by anatomical abnormalities that shrink the space through which nerve roots exit the spinal canal and branch out into the rest of the body. However, these structural issues have their own underlying causes, chief among them being the normal aging process. Our bodies deteriorate as we get older, and the components of our spines are no different.

Aging’s toll on the intervertebral discs

Perhaps the most noticeable change is the shrinking of our intervertebral discs, which is caused by them losing their water content over the years. In addition to this loss of disc height, the elasticity of these discs is often reduced, making them more rigid and susceptible to cracking as the body moves. Damage to the discs can allow the interior, gelatinous portion of the discs to bulge out and obstruct a foramen. Discs that have lost height also allow the adjacent vertebrae to shift closer together and shrink the spaces (foramina) between the vertebrae.

Osteoarthritis and bone spurs

Damage to the discs isn’t the only way that aging can impact the width of the foramen. Osteoarthritis tends to occur more frequently in people as they get older. Although this condition can affect any joint in the body, it is often noticed in the spinal joints. When the cartilage on the joints between the vertebrae wears down, the vertebrae begin to grind against each other, rather than gliding easily. In response, the body produces bone spurs. These rounded, bony growths are rather common and most go unnoticed, but sometimes they can contribute to foraminal narrowing.

Spinal abnormalities can cause various symptoms

Any of these abnormalities can reduce the space available in the small openings for nerve roots running from the spinal canal, causing the impingement of these nerves. The pinched nerves can lead to radiculopathy — or radiating pain, tingling sensations or weakness that affect the extremities.

If you’re looking into your surgical options for foraminal narrowing, be sure to consider the minimally invasive procedures at Laser Spine Institute. Contact us today to learn about our approach and to request a review of your MRI.