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What does severe foraminal stenosis mean?

Foraminal stenosis (narrowing) occurs when tiny openings (foramina) between spinal vertebrae become obstructed. The source of the obstruction is usually excess tissue, such as a bone spur or disc material that has become displaced due to degenerative changes in the spine. Because nerve roots must pass through the foramen in order to branch away from the spinal cord to reach other areas of the body, the condition can potentially irritate or pinch sensitive spinal nerves.

Foraminal narrowing may be described as “severe” if it leads to painful nerve compression that requires treatment. Severe foraminal stenosis can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including localized and radiating pain, tingling sensations, numbness and muscle weakness in an arm or leg.

What can be done about severe foraminal stenosis?

Even though the condition is referred to as “severe,” surgery may not be necessary to address it — at least not initially, and perhaps not ever. In fact, many people are able to achieve the relief they need with a combination of conservative therapies, many of which can be used as needed at home, such as:

  • Targeted stretches
  • Regular exercise
  • Postural improvement
  • Hot and/or cold therapy
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Muscle relaxants

While nonsurgical treatment can be very effective for relieving pain and other symptoms caused by spinal nerve root compression, it’s important to understand that this approach cannot address the source of the compression itself. However, it may be unnecessary to do so, since the goal of treatment is symptom relief. In other words, the foraminal stenosis itself may not need to be addressed once the associated discomfort resolves.

Why do some people elect surgical treatment for foraminal stenosis?

Sometimes, for various reasons, spinal nerve compression symptoms do not respond adequately to conservative treatment. While there is no set timeframe for considering surgery, many people choose do so around the three-month mark.

At USA Spine Care, we take a minimally invasive approach to neck and back surgery. To address foraminal stenosis, our surgeons perform outpatient procedures to alleviate nerve compression by creating additional space within the spinal canal. If you are experiencing moderate-to-severe nerve compression symptoms, we encourage you to contact us. Our team can provide a free MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive surgery.

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