Causes, symptoms and treatment options for foraminal narrowing

What is foraminal narrowing?

A simple definition of foraminal narrowing is the narrowing of the foraminal canal, which is the space on either side of the spine that allows the nerves to exit the spinal canal.

The spinal canal and foraminal canal host several nerves traveling between the spine, brain and the rest of the body. Pairs of nerve roots branch off the spinal cord at every level of the spine through openings in the vertebrae called foramina (singular: foramen). These openings are areas where the vertebrae connect and are subject to narrowing when the components of the spine are damaged or move out of alignment. For example, a herniated or bulging disc may move out of the standard disc space and into the canal, reducing the space in the foraminal canal where the nerves can travel.

Foraminal narrowing, or stenosis, is often unnoticeable because it does not immediately cause pain or symptoms. However, the narrowing of the canal where the nerves travel increases the risk of pressing or pinching a nerve root, which does cause pain and symptoms. Identifying the symptoms of foraminal narrowing early can help you find an effective treatment before your quality of life suffers.

Symptoms associated with foraminal narrowing

If foraminal narrowing causes nerve compression, symptoms and pain almost always occur. The area of the body experiencing symptoms depends on the location of the compressed nerve.

For example, cervical (neck) foraminal narrowing produces symptoms in the head, neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, hands or fingers. Lumbar (lower back) foraminal narrowing can produce sciatica, a set of symptoms related to compression of the sciatic nerve or its associated nerve roots. Symptoms can include:

  • Localized pain at the site of the nerve compression
  • Pain that radiates from the site of compression along the length of the affected nerve
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness

Treatment for foraminal narrowing

A physician may suggest conservative treatment such as pain medication, exercise or corticosteroid injections in order to manage chronic symptoms from foraminal narrowing.

If pain or other discomfort persists after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, surgery may become an option. If surgery is recommended, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our minimally invasive spine surgery that is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back surgery.^

Our procedures are designed to relieve pressure on the pinched nerve by removing either a small portion of the damaged component of the spine (decompression surgery) or by replacing the damaged piece with a surgical implant and/or bone grafts (stabilization surgery). Both types of procedures can be used to help increase the space in the foraminal canal and decrease your symptoms by relieving the nerve compression. Our minimally invasive decompression surgery is used to help treat many causes of foraminal narrowing, though sometimes stabilization surgery may be necessary if the cause of the foraminal stenosis is severe.

Take the next step toward pain relief by contacting Laser Spine Institute. Our caring team can provide you with a free MRI review* and help determine if you are a candidate for our procedures. Let us help you make a confident decision about your spine care needs.