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Foraminal narrowing explained by the St. Louis-based experts at Laser Spine Institute

Foraminal narrowing, also commonly referred to foraminal stenosis, is a degenerative condition that affects the small holes between the vertebrae in the spine. The likelihood of developing this condition is greater in people over the age of 50, and it can result in a variety of symptoms.

What is foraminal narrowing?

At every level of the spine, nerve roots run from the spinal canal through the small openings (foramina) located between the vertebrae and branch out throughout the body. Foraminal narrowing is a condition that occurs when some type of spinal degeneration has caused a foramen to narrow, putting pressure on a spinal nerve root.

How is a foraminal narrowing diagnosis made?

In order to make an accurate diagnosis, your physician will likely undertake a three-step process to determine if you are experiencing symptoms of foraminal narrowing. The first step is a discussion about your family history and your medical history to help identify any factors that might make foraminal narrowing likely. Next, your physician will perform a physical exam to locate the areas of your body that are being affected by your symptoms. Finally, your physician will order an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to confirm the existence and precise location of your foraminal narrowing.

Causes of foraminal narrowing

Foraminal narrowing is the result of some type of spinal degeneration, which makes the body’s natural aging process the main cause of this condition. Whether it’s due to a bone spur, thickening ligaments, spinal osteoarthritis, a herniated disc or spondylolisthesis, foraminal narrowing is most often the result of degeneration that has occurred because of years of wear and tear on the spine. Risk factors that can increase the likelihood of this condition include obesity, tobacco use and high-impact sports.

Foraminal narrowing symptoms

Because the majority of the symptoms of foraminal narrowing are related to the compression of a spinal nerve root, the location of your symptoms will depend upon the area of your spine that has been affected. Severe, chronic pain can occur at the site of the nerve compression and can also radiate down a nerve root to other areas of the body. Cramping, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness can also occur along the nerve root’s path.

How to treat foraminal narrowing

If you’ve been diagnosed with foraminal narrowing, it’s likely that your physician will recommend that you try a combination of conservative treatments for several weeks. These treatments may include the following:

  • Rest
  • Pain medications
  • Epidural steroid shots
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Hot/cold therapy
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Physical therapy
  • Lifestyle changes

Is surgery an option for treating foraminal narrowing?

For many patients, an extended period of conservative treatment will usually result in a reduction of their foraminal narrowing symptoms and allow them to resume a normal, active lifestyle. However, if you have exhausted your conservative treatment options and haven’t found the relief you need, spinal surgery may be the next option to consider. While traditional open back surgery can lead to a lengthy hospital stay and recovery, Laser Spine Institute in St. Louis offers minimally invasive spine surgery that allows patients to be up and walking within a few hours of surgery.^

If you are dealing with the symptoms of foraminal narrowing and would like to learn more about our outpatient surgery, contact us today. We offer a no-cost MRI review* that can help you determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.