Foramen is a word that means canal, or opening. Also known by the plural form of the word, foramina, these open spaces are found along the spinal column where facet joints fit together and leave a small, hollow space between vertebrae. The spinal canal, a space through which the spinal cord travels from the base of the brain to the lower back, is also a type of foramen, called the vertebral foramen.

Each foramen, or neuroforamen, primarily acts as a passageway for spinal nerves to travel through. Starting at the spinal cord, spinal nerve roots branch off in pairs — as a dorsal (back) nerve root and ventral (front) nerve root — and then exit through the foramina to the rest of the body. Many cases of neck or back pain originate from spine conditions that cause narrowing of a foramen which can lead to nerve compression.

If you or someone you know is trying to find relief from neck or back pain, learning about spinal anatomy and related conditions can be an important part of this process. This knowledge can help you work with a doctor to get the treatment needed for a return to a healthy, active life.

Narrowing of the foramen

Narrowing of the spine, called stenosis, happens because of the way the spine is constructed. The spine is required to support a large amount of weight while remaining flexible enough for everyday movement. This combination of pressure and moving parts makes the spine vulnerable to the development of conditions that displace anatomy and encroach on nerve pathways.

Conditions that can cause a foramen to narrow include:

  • Degenerative disc disease, normally due to aging
  • A herniated disc, when a rupture causes disc material to leak
  • A bulging disc, which is a contained disc that extrudes into the spinal canal
  • Osteophytes, or bone spurs, which are additional growths of bone on normal bone

Foraminal stenosis can occur in the cervical (upper), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) regions of the spine. Symptoms include local and radiating pain, as well as tingling, numbness and weakness in the extremities. The location of symptoms depends on where the foraminal narrowing occurs, with cervical foraminal stenosis affecting the neck, shoulders, arms and hands while lumbar foraminal stenosis can affect the lower body.

Treatment options

However, problems with the neuroforamen, such as foraminal stenosis, do not have to go untreated. Upon diagnosis, most doctors will prescribe a course of conservative treatment like exercise, pain medication, physical therapy and massage. These treatments do not work for everyone, though, and you may find that your doctor suggests traditional open neck or open back surgery, in which spinal components applying pressure to the nerve in the foramen are removed.

Laser Spine Institute provides an alternative to invasive traditional open spine surgical approaches. Our surgeons perform minimally invasive outpatient procedures to help patients find relief from neck and back pain. By using a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine, we can offer patients a shorter recovery time^ with less risk of complication than traditional open spine surgery.

If you are considering surgery, but concerned about traditional open back procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute today. We offer a no-cost MRI review* to find out if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.