What is Foraminal Stenosis?
The spine supports much of the upper body’s weight while protecting the spinal cord and facilitating movement. To accomplish these tasks, a complex system of stacked vertebrae, cartilage, joints, ligaments and muscles work in tandem, with each component depending upon another to function properly. Because the spine absorbs a great deal of the stress and strain of everyday life, it is prone to degeneration over time. When one part of the spine begins to deteriorate, it can quickly affect nearby regions and cause debilitating and/or painful symptoms.
The foraminal passageways, through which important nerves branch away from the spinal cord and travel to other areas of the body, are particularly susceptible to damage and decline. “Foraminal stenosis” occurs when these canals become obstructed or narrowed. Usually, foraminal stenosis becomes noticeable when a nerve becomes compressed, which leads to pain, discomfort and other irritating complications. Although foraminal narrowing can become a serious condition, it is generally easily treatable with prompt medical attention and proper care.
The age-related decline of the vertebral column is the primary cause of foraminal stenosis. However, many factors can exacerbate or accelerate the narrowing of the foraminal canals, including:
- Bone spurs
- Herniated or bulging discs
- Ligament thickening
- Facet joint swelling
- Sudden injuries, such as those that may result from a fall, high-impact sport or motor vehicle accident
- Repetitive, strenuous movements or improper lifting, commonly associated with highly physical jobs requiring manual labor or professions that involve regularly driving long distances
- Excess weight or obesity
- Lack of exercise
- Improper footwear
- Family history or genetic predisposition
If you believe you may be at risk for developing foraminal stenosis or other spine disorders, schedule a consultation with one of our experienced spine specialists to discuss which preventative measures may work best for you. By making minor lifestyle changes and proactively treating issues as they arise, it is possible to manage, delay or even alleviate spine degeneration.
The symptoms of foraminal stenosis vary depending on which area of the spinal column experiences problematic narrowing (cervical, thoracic or lumbar), as well as the severity of the problem. However, there are some general symptoms to look out for, including:
- Pain and discomfort that are localized or radiate to nearby extremities
- Muscle weakness
- Tingling or “pins-and-needles” sensations
- Unexplained symptoms in the neck, shoulders, arms and hands (if the narrowing occurs in the cervical or thoracic spine), lower back, hips, buttocks, legs or feet (if a foraminal canal in the lumbar spine becomes obstructed)
- The inability to participate in everyday activities without encountering aggravation
Because the symptoms of foraminal stenosis are also associated with many other disorders and conditions, it is important to seek a comprehensive and accurate diagnosis right away. At Laser Spine & Orthopedics®, we are committed to helping you accurately identify the underlying cause of your pain and other symptoms.
If you or a loved one experience bleeding, fever or incontinence of the bladder or bowels in conjunction with your back pain, call 911 immediately. These symptoms may indicate a medical emergency.
Our Minimally Invasive Approach
If you are encountering foraminal stenosis, you are not alone. You do not have to accept your pain as an unalterable aspect of your daily life. Through personalized, patient-centric care, the team of spine experts at Laser Spine & Orthopedics® aims to ensure that each and every patient returns to their previous quality of life free of symptoms. From diagnosis to treatment, your health, well-being and quality of life are our unwavering priorities.
During your initial consultation, one of our Board-certified spine surgeons will carefully and compassionately evaluate your medical history, current symptoms and physical state. Then, we will work with you to design a treatment plan that meets your unique needs and health history.
Generally, we recommend exploring conservative treatment options before considering surgical intervention. There are many non-invasive methods of care that can reduce the symptoms associated with foraminal stenosis. Often, patients can achieve significant relief through:
Physical Therapy and Moderate Exercise: It may seem counterintuitive, but extended periods of bed rest are rarely beneficial for patients suffering from foraminal stenosis and can even worsen symptoms. Through targeted physical therapy and activity, it is possible to reduce the amount of strain placed upon the spine. Losing excess pounds, increasing flexibility and strengthening the abdominal muscles can all help to diminish the effects of foraminal stenosis. Professional massage may also bring many therapeutic benefits.
Medication: Over-the-counter and prescription medications can lessen inflammation caused by foraminal stenosis. This allows patients to begin long-term treatment programs, such as physical therapy, with reduced discomfort. Localized pain-relieving injections may also be recommended and can pinpoint and then eliminate the pain of foraminal stenosis for as long as 6 months at a time.
Lifestyle Modifications: Maintaining correct posture, purchasing orthopedic footwear, avoiding triggering activities and making other minor adjustments can often provide dramatic reprieve from the symptoms of foraminal stenosis. The specific adjustments recommended will depend upon the location and severity of your body’s foraminal narrowing.
If non-surgical treatments do not provide sufficient relief, surgical intervention may be recommended. At Laser Spine & Orthopedics®, our surgeons specialize in performing minimally invasive laparoscopic procedures. When compared to traditional open procedures, minimally invasive surgeries typically yield additional benefits that include:
- Shortened recovery times that allow patients to return to work and school more quickly
- A reduced risk of scarring or high volumes of blood loss
- Minimal trauma to nearby muscles and other soft tissues
- Less post-operative pain
Because of their many advantages, minimally invasive techniques are considered the most advanced form of treatment for foraminal stenosis. During your procedure, surgeons may remove bone spurs and other obstructions from the foraminal canals and repair failing intervertebral discs through techniques that make use of remarkably small incisions. However, some patients may not be able to undergo minimally invasive surgery for medical reasons, such as obesity or the presence of surgical adhesions (scar tissue) from a previous surgery. Because our surgeons are experienced in both minimally invasive and traditional techniques, we are able to provide whichever operation best suits your unique case of foraminal narrowing.
To learn more about foraminal stenosis or Laser Spine & Orthopedics®, please call us directly at 972-255-5588 or fill out the form on this page. We look forward to helping you attain optimal healing, so that you can continue to do the things you love!