Narrowing of the foramen

Narrowing of the foramen, or foraminal stenosis, occurs when displaced tissue within the spine restricts the space available for spinal nerves. Foramen (pl. foramina) is a medical term for an opening in the body that allows for the passage of nerves, blood vessels or muscles. In the spine, a pair of foramina is formed between most of the vertebrae, allowing nerve roots to exit off the spinal cord on each side.

The foramina can become restricted by traumatic injury or through an age-related degenerative spine condition such as osteoarthritis, bone spurs or degenerative disc disease. If a nerve root is compressed because of this reduction in space, it can produce symptoms such as localized pain, radiating pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness. These symptoms can be extremely debilitating, affecting every part of your life from work to family time, or just being able to get a good night’s sleep. If you are dealing with foraminal narrowing, learning more about this condition can help you and your doctor develop a care plan with the best chance of returning you to a healthy, active life.

Conditions that cause narrowing of the foramen

As we age, the parts of the spine can begin to wear down leading to degenerative conditions, or making the spine more prone to injury. Since the foramina are already tight spaces, even a small amount of additional narrowing from a spine condition can cause nerve compression. Conditions that can lead to narrowing of the foramen include:

  • Spinal arthritis — degeneration of facet joints, where vertebrae meet and articulate
  • Osteophytes — bone spurs caused by spinal osteoarthritis or a flattened disc
  • Bulging disc — protrusion of a section of the outer wall of a spinal disc beyond its normal boundary
  • Herniated disc — extrusion of the gel-like nucleus material of a disc through a tear or crack in the disc’s outer wall
  • Spondylolisthesis — slippage of one vertebra over another, either because of traumatic injury or degeneration
  • Ligamentum flavum hypertrophy — enlargement of a spinal ligament

Treatment for narrowing of the foramen

Upon diagnosing nerve compression caused by foraminal narrowing, conservative treatments, such as pain medication, exercise or stretching, are often first recommended. Epidural steroidal injections are also generally effective for relieving pain associated with foraminal stenosis, although the corticosteroid solution used to combat the pain tends to wear off over time. If conservative methods do not bring relief after a period of weeks or months, you and your doctor may begin to consider surgery.

If you have been recommended for surgery but have concerns about the risks and difficulties of a traditional open spine procedure, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our board-certified surgeons+ perform minimally invasive spine surgery that uses a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine and decompress nerves affected by foraminal narrowing and other spine issues.

For a no-cost MRI review* to see if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures, reach out to our dedicated team of Spine Care Consultants today.