Narrowing of the foramen overview

Narrowing of the foramen, or foraminal stenosis, occurs when displaced tissue within the spine restricts the space available for spinal nerves. The foramen 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 two vertebral segments, 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 or radiating back 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 narrowing of the foramen, learning more about this condition in the following article can help you and your doctor develop a treatment plan that has the best chance of returning you to a healthy and 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 nerves to be pinched as they exit the spine. Conditions that can lead to narrowing of the foramen include the following conditions:

  • Osteophytes — are bone spurs caused by spinal osteoarthritis or a flattened disc
  • Bulging disc — is the extrusion of a section of the outer wall of a spinal disc beyond its normal boundary
  • Herniated disc — is when the gel-like nucleus material of a disc leaks out through a tear or crack in the disc’s tough outer layer
  • Spondylolisthesis — is the slippage of one vertebra over another, either because of traumatic injury or aging
  • Ligamentum flavum hypertrophy — is the thickening of a spinal ligament caused by degeneration

Treatment for narrowing of the foramen

Upon diagnosing nerve compression caused by narrowing of the foramen, conservative treatments, such as pain medication, physical therapy or chiropractic visits are often first recommended. Cortisone injections and nerve blocks are also generally effective for relieving pain associated with narrowing of the foramen, although it is typically used as an aggressive approach if other therapies fail and this approach 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 muscle-sparing procedures that use a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine and decompress the nerves, which alleviates the pressure caused by narrowing of the foramen.

At Laser Spine Institute, we have helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from their chronic neck or back pain since 2005. Reach out to our dedicated team today for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.