Foraminal narrowing, also called foraminal stenosis, describes the narrowing of the foraminal canals, which are the canals on either side of each vertebra that allow spinal nerves to exit into the spinal canal.
Types of foraminal narrowing include bilateral stenosis, unilateral stenosis and far lateral stenosis. The definitions for each are as follows:
- Bilateral foraminal narrowing — both foramina become narrow
- Unilateral narrowing — only one foramen (left or right) at one level of the spine is affected
- Far lateral stenosis — narrowing of the area surrounding a nerve root after it has exited the foramen
Foraminal narrowing often starts asymptomatically, without pain or other telltale signs. In fact, the condition only produces symptoms if the foramen has become so restricted that it compresses a traveling nerve, which can produce symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness.
Types of foraminal narrowing by location
Foraminal narrowing can occur at any level of the spine, but it most commonly affects the pairs of foramina between the seven cervical vertebrae (upper) and the five lumbar vertebrae (lower).
The cervical spine and lumbar spine are subjected to stress-inducing motion, combined with the constant strain of supporting much of the body’s weight, which can increase the risk of developing a degenerative condition and foraminal stenosis.
That doesn’t mean that the thoracic area of the spine (middle) is immune from damage, however. Although the stability of the thoracic spine limits the risk of foraminal stenosis, the condition can still develop, though it is rare.
The site of the foraminal narrowing often determines the location of the symptoms, as described below:
Treatment options for foraminal narrowing
If you experience symptoms associated with any type of foraminal narrowing, talk to your physician about the treatment options available to you.
Generally, patients can manage mild to moderate symptoms using conservative treatments. Physicians may prescribe pain medication to manage existing pain, exercise to strengthen the back muscles to better support the spine and/or other conservative methods to reduce the symptoms of foraminal stenosis.
However, if symptoms are severe or chronic (persisting longer than three months of conservative treatment), surgery may become an option.
If you’ve been recommended for spine surgery, contact USA Spine Care. Our minimally invasive spine surgery offers lower risks and shorter recovery times^ than traditional open back surgery, and we’ve helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain.
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