What is foraminal narrowing? A guide to risk factors and treatment

Foraminal narrowing is the narrowing of the foraminal canal in the spine. The foraminal canals are openings between the vertebrae that allow the nerves to exit the spinal cord. This area is relatively small, so any obstruction that causes the foramina to narrow can become a risk for a pinched or compressed nerve.

Typically, the foraminal canal offers space for the nerve roots to exit the spinal cord and travel to other parts of the body. These openings can become constricted due to degenerative spine conditions, such as a bone spur or a herniated disc, or through injury. This narrowing, or stenosis, only becomes symptomatic if one of the nerve roots is irritated or compressed by the narrowed canal.

Risk factors for foraminal narrowing

There are several risks for foraminal narrowing, both controllable and uncontrollable. Risk factors for foraminal narrowing can include:

  • Degenerative diseases. Osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease can reduce space available for nerve roots.
  • Genetics. An inherited condition may limit space available for nerve roots to travel in the spine.
  • Age. People 50 or older are more susceptible to foraminal narrowing.
  • Obesity. Excess weight places undue stress on the spine.
  • Profession. People whose professions require working with heavy loads, long periods of sitting or standing, or repetitive movements of the neck or back are susceptible to degenerative spinal conditions.

Treatment for foraminal narrowing

If foraminal narrowing leads to nerve compression, it can produce symptoms such as localized pain, radiating pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness. To manage these symptoms, a doctor may initially recommend trying conservative methods of treatment, including pain or anti-inflammatory medication, exercise and spinal injections.

If chronic symptoms persist after several weeks or months of conservative treatments, surgery may become an option. If this is the case, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the many benefits of our minimally invasive spine surgery. Depending on the cause of your foraminal narrowing, a minimally invasive decompression surgery or minimally invasive stabilization surgery may be an effective treatment option. Decompression surgery removes the displaced portion of spinal anatomy that is constricting the foraminal canal, while a stabilization procedure removes the entire damaged piece of the spine and replaces it with a stabilizing implant. For many patients, our decompression surgery can be used to help treat the condition, although some cases of severe spine damage may require a stabilization procedure.

Our minimally invasive procedures offer patients a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery, as well as a shorter recovery time^ and a lower risk of infection. To learn more about the benefits of our minimally invasive spine surgery and how we can help treat foraminal stenosis, contact Laser Spine Institute.

We are pleased to offer a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to help you find out if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.