Narrowing of the Foramen
Narrowing of the foramen, or foraminal stenosis, occurs when an anatomical anomaly within the spine restricts the space available for the passage of nerve roots as they branch off from the spinal cord. A foramen is an opening, and the plural of the word is foramina. There are 33 sets of nerve roots along the spine, and each set exits the spinal cord through foramina on either side of the stacked vertebrae. The foramina can become restricted by traumatic injury or through an age-related degenerative spine condition such as osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, thickened ligaments or vertebral slippage (spondylolisthesis). If a nerve root is compressed because of this reduction in space, it can produce symptoms such as localized pain, radicular (radiating) pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness.
Anatomical abnormalities that lead to a narrowing of the foramen
As we age, the components of the spinal anatomy can begin to wear down. This degeneration threatens the integrity of the vertebrae, ligaments, intervertebral discs, and other components of the spine. Conditions that can lead to a narrowing of the foramen include:
- Spinal arthritis – degeneration of facet joints, where vertebrae meet and articulate
- Osteophytes – bone spurs caused by spinal osteoarthritis
- Bulging disc – protrusion of a section of the outer wall of an intervertebral disc beyond its normal boundary
- Herniated disc – extrusion of the gel-like nucleus material of an intervertebral 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
Epidural steroidal injections are generally effective for relieving pain associated with foraminal stenosis, although the corticosteroid solution used to combat the pain tends to wear off over time. Other conservative treatments, such as pain medication, exercise or stretching, might also be recommended. If conservative methods prove ineffective, surgery may become an option. If you are considering surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the many advantages of one of our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures. Our orthopedic surgeons have helped tens of thousands of foraminal stenosis patients find relief from neck and back pain.