Conditions

What Is Foraminal Stenosis?

The word foramen means opening.  The foramen in the spine is a small opening in between vertebrae where the spinal nerves leave the central spinal canal and move out into your arms or legs.  This foramen or opening can often become narrowed and pinch the nerves.  The word stenosis means narrowed.  So, foraminal stenosis refers to a narrowed opening in the spine where the spinal nerves are being pinched.   Foraminal stenosis or pinching of the spinal nerves can result in radiculopathy. Radiculopathy is radiating nerve pain.  If the foraminal stenosis is in the neck then the result may be shooting arm pain.  If the foraminal stenosis is in the low back then the result may be shooting leg pain.  When a nerve is pinched you may also experience numbness or tingling in the arms or legs along the course of that particular nerve.

Foraminal stenosis can be caused by bulging or herniated discs.  It can also be from degenerative disc disease or facet arthritis which can result in bone spurs that can pinch the nerves.

What is the difference between foraminal stenosis and spinal stenosis?

Foraminal stenosis is a narrowing of the opening in the sides of the vertebrae where the individual spinal nerves exit the spinal canal and go out into the arms and legs.  Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the central spinal canal where all the nerves and spinal cord run through.  Both of these conditions can be caused by bulging/herniated discs, and bone spurs from degenerative discs and facet arthritis.

Treatments that may be beneficial for this condition can be anti-inflammatories or nerve pain medications such as gabapentin/Neurontin, Lyrica or Cymbalta.  Injection of a very small amount of local anesthetic or steroid right at the area of nerve irritation can be performed.  This is called a selective nerve root block.  If all of these treatments fail, another option is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure through a 3 to 15 mm incision where a tube is placed through the muscle fibers to preserve them and the opening for the nerve is enlarged.  This makes more space for the nerve and therefore less pain.

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