Foraminal Stenosis 101

While there are no definite numbers, it’s estimated that as many as 500,000 Americans are suffering from foraminal stenosis. That means that approximately one in every 650 people in the United States are suffering from this condition, which can be incredibly painful. If you’ve been diagnosed with foraminal stenosis, you might be looking for answers about how to treat your back pain. If you are currently suffering from back pain, you might be doing research to help determine what’s causing your pain. This article will seek to inform you about the condition, help you determine if it could be the cause of your back pain, and give you hope that there are many treatment options available at our spine clinic.

What is Foraminal Stenosis?

This condition concerns openings in your spine called foramina. Each vertebra in your spine have a foramen on either side where the nerves can enter and exit the spinal canal. Foraminal stenosis occurs when these openings are narrowed and place pressure on the nerves that are going in and out. That pressure causes intense pain. The condition most commonly occurs in the neck and lower back.

What Causes Foraminal Stenosis?

The condition can be caused by a number of things, any of which can narrow the foraminal opening and put pressure on the nerves passing through to the spinal canal. Narrowing can be caused by:

  • Bone growth. The bone of the vertebrae can grow into the opening and begin to pinch or block the nerve. This sometimes happens after severe trauma occurs to the spine, such as in a sport-related injury or auto accident.
  • Soft tissues. This commonly happens when the patient has degenerative disc disease and is experiencing herniated discs. The soft, jelly-like material contained in the disc of the vertebrae can leak out into the foramen, making the opening more constricted for the nerves.
  • Tumors. While rare, there are cases where tumors growing on the spine can cause pressure on the nerves in the foramen.
  • Arthritis. This inflammatory condition can cause the ligaments in the spine to become inflamed and start to block the openings.

It can take years for the condition to develop. You could have foraminal stenosis now but not start to exhibit the painful symptoms for many years yet, as the nerves may still have plenty of room. The condition can be made worse by being overweight, smoking, doing repetitive lifting, or even wearing poor-quality footwear. Some patients find that the condition is worsened by certain activities and may find temporary relief from simply ceasing those activities; however, if the condition continues to develop, it’s unlikely they’ll find permanent relief from the pain.

What are the Symptoms?

Patients can have a variety of symptoms that may present themselves in different areas of the body in varying degrees of intensity, depending on how severely the opening has been narrowed by the blockage. This is part of the reason that the condition can be difficult to diagnose and may require the help of a spinal clinic. Patients with foraminal stenosis may experience:

  • Pain in the neck or lower back
  • Pain in their legs or arms
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the muscles of their legs or arms
  • Problems controlling the bladder or bowels (if you are experiencing this symptom, you should seek medical attention immediately)

An accurate diagnosis for the condition is unlikely to come from your symptoms; instead, your doctor will probably require some diagnostic scans to help them determine if you are suffering from foraminal stenosis.

The Connection to Sciatica Pain

While many people have not heard of foraminal stenosis, most have heard of sciatica pain. Foraminal stenosis is actually a potential cause of sciatica pain. Your sciatic nerve runs from your spine, down through your buttocks, and into your legs. It’s the largest and longest nerve in your body. If the foramen where the sciatic nerve exits the spinal canal becomes narrowed, then not only is that a case of foraminal stenosis, but sciatica as well.

If you’ve been diagnosed with sciatica, then you might also be suffering from foraminal stenosis.  It’s important to determine what’s causing your sciatica pain in order to find the right treatment options.

What are the Treatment Options?

There are a number of treatment options for patients who are suffering from this condition. First, as with almost any form of back pain, a doctor will probably recommend that you try conservative treatments at home. That might include alternating ice packs and heating pads, taking over-the-counter pain medication and anti inflammatories, or performing certain exercises to see if they help with the pain. If these methods don’t provide relief, there are more options your doctor at the spine clinic might recommend.

Steroid Injections

Injections can serve two purposes. First, they can provide temporary pain relief for the patient. Injections can help reduce the inflammation in your back and ease your painful symptoms for anywhere from a couple hours to several weeks. Secondly, they can help your doctor diagnose the location and cause of your pain. If the injection works, your doctor will be able to more accurately diagnose the cause of your pain, which can lead to more effective treatment options.

Surgical Procedures

Foraminal stenosis could be treated with endoscopic surgical procedures. These procedures require a small incision and less recovery time versus traditional back surgery. Using an HD camera and microscopic tools, your surgeon can locate the narrowed foramen and gently open up the area, relieving pressure on the nerve that’s passing through the opening.

Are You Suffering from Foraminal Stenosis?

If you are currently suffering from back pain, it’s time to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. International Spine Institute offers free MRI reviews that can help the team at our spine clinic uncover the root cause of your pain and then discuss with you the treatment options that are available. You don’t have to live with back pain. We can help. Get in touch with us today by giving us a call or filling out the contact form on our website. We’ll arrange your MRI review appointment at a time that is convenient for you.