What is Foraminal Stenosis?Conditions
Foraminal stenosis is considered a type of spinal stenosis. Foraminal stenosis refers to the narrowing of the foramina, which are passageways on the sides of the vertebrae that the spinal nerve roots run through. A healthy spine has sufficient space for the nerve roots to pass through and branch out to different parts of the body. In some cases of foraminal stenosis, the space becomes narrow enough to put pressure on or pinch a nerve. When there is pressure on a spinal nerve, you can experience pain and weakness in the parts of the body along the nerve pathways, such as the arms or legs.
There are several spine conditions that can contribute to foraminal stenosis such as degenerative disc disease, herniated and bulging discs and osteoarthritis in the spine. Foraminal stenosis can affect any part of the spine, and symptoms of foraminal stenosis vary depending on where along the spine the compression of the nerve is located.
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Foraminal Stenosis Causes and Risk Factors
Degenerative changes that happen to the spine as we age are the most common causes of foraminal stenosis. The damage can result in the formation of bone spurs, which can extend into the spinal canal and narrow the space around the nerve roots.
Causes of foraminal stenosis include:
- Bulging discs
- Herniated discs
- Degenerative disc disease
- Thickened spinal ligaments
- Facet disease
- Injury or trauma to the spine
- Scoliosis and other spinal deformities
- Paget’s disease
The risk of developing foraminal stenosis increases with age and most commonly affects those over the age of 50.
Foraminal Stenosis Symptoms
The symptoms of foraminal stenosis vary depending on the part of the spine affected. Foraminal stenosis in the cervical spine (neck) can cause symptoms that extend to the shoulder and arms, while lumbar (low back) foraminal stenosis causes low back pain and symptoms that can radiate to the buttocks and legs.
Common foraminal stenosis symptoms include:
- Localized pain in the neck or back
- Radiating pain to the extremities
- Tingling and numbness in the extremities
- Muscle weakness affecting the extremities
- Muscle spasms
- Limited range of motion
Foraminal Stenosis Treatment
Treatment for foraminal stenosis may include a combination of conservative therapy. For many, nonsurgical treatments are enough to relieve symptoms and trying a series of nonsurgical methods first is recommended for the treatment of foraminal stenosis.
Nonsurgical foraminal stenosis treatment options include:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers – Analgesics (acetaminophen) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen) can help relieve mild to moderate pain and inflammation.
- Prescription pain medication – For moderate to severe pain that isn’t relieved by OTC pain medications, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications, such as narcotics, for short term use.
- Heat and cold – Applying heat and cold can help relieve pain and inflammation. Alternating between both has been found to be most effective.
- Physical therapy – Strengthening and stretching exercises can help improve flexibility and restore range of motion while also strengthening the muscles in the back and abdomen that help support the spine.
- Muscle relaxants – Your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant to ease muscle spasms.
- Corticosteroid injections – Steroid medication is injected into the membrane that covers the spinal cord to help with severe pain that radiates down the leg.
- Anesthetic injections – A numbing agent is injected into the spine to block nerve pain. Numbing agents are often used in combination with corticosteroids.
- Bracing – A brace may be recommended for extra spinal support if you have especially weak abdominal muscles or degeneration that affects various levels of your spine.
When nonsurgical treatment for foraminal stenosis fails to provide sufficient relief after a few weeks, then surgical treatment may be recommended. There are a few different options when it comes to surgical treatment for foraminal stenosis, most of which can be performed using minimally invasive outpatient procedures. Spinal decompression procedures are available to treat the spinal conditions that contribute to foraminal stenosis, including:
The goal of surgical foraminal stenosis treatment is to remove pressure off the compressed nerve and relieve foraminal stenosis symptoms that were not relieved with nonsurgical treatment. These procedures often provide immediate relief of symptoms and a quicker recovery than traditional open back surgery.
Back Pain Centers provides a variety of options for treating chronic pain caused by different spine conditions. Call [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] to be matched with one of our highly skilled, board-certified spine specialists who can help you learn about your options.
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