Exiting nerve roots

Exiting nerve roots refer to the point where nerves branch off the spinal cord, exit the spinal column and start to form the peripheral nervous system. The spinal vertebrae have narrow holes, called foramina, where the nerves travel out. Since the foramina are so narrow to begin with, spine conditions such as arthritis and degenerative disc disease can cause additional narrowing to put pressure on the exiting nerve roots, resulting in painful, debilitating symptoms.

If you have been dealing with chronic neck or back pain potentially related to the exiting nerve roots, learning about the specific symptoms and treatment options can help you and your primary care doctor develop a plan of treatment that can get you back to a more acceptable quality of life.

Symptoms of nerve root issues

Narrowing of nerve root exits, called foraminal stenosis, happens as part of the natural aging process. Deterioration from years of wear and tear from everyday activity cause joint linings to wear out and discs to lose their shape. This can result in displaced spinal anatomy — like a herniated disc or an arthritic bone spur — constricting the foramina and causing painful nerve compression. In addition to localized neck and back pain, compression of exiting nerve roots can cause symptoms of shooting pain, tingling and numbness to radiate out to the extremities.

The location of symptoms depends on the region of the spine where compression occurs:

  • Cervical — This is the upper spine, traveling through the neck. Foraminal stenosis here can affect the shoulders, arms and hands.
  • Thoracic — The middle spine is attached to the ribcage and is less prone to nerve compression because of its stability. If symptoms do occur, they usually travel to the chest and/or abdomen.
  • Lumbar — The lower back is a common source of nerve compression because it must support so much weight and still be able to bend and flex. Radiating symptoms travel into the hips, buttocks and legs.

Treating exiting nerve root compression

Your primary care physician should be able to diagnose the source of symptoms with an MRI or CT scan. In many cases, a conservative course of treatment, including treatments like cortisone injections, exercise and pain medication are effective for getting meaningful pain relief.

Surgery becomes an option when conservative options are exhausted without improvement in symptoms. If you are considering surgery, but are concerned about some of the risks and difficulties associated with traditional open back surgery — including scarring, hospital-based infections and a long rehabilitation period — reach out to Laser Spine Institute.

We perform minimally invasive spine surgery that uses a smaller, muscle-sparing incision that results in a shorter recovery time^ and less scarring than traditional procedures. Our surgeons perform our minimally invasive spine surgery in state-of-the-art outpatient centers that are built around patient-centered care.

Contact our Care Team today for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you are a potential candidate for our procedures that may help you get your life back from chronic neck or back pain.