Foraminal stenosis is the narrowing of the cervical disc space caused by inflammation of a joint in the spinal canal. It is typically identified by non-continuous pain developing slowly over many years and is related to a certain activity or position.

Although foraminal stenosis is most common in the neck, it can also occur in the lumbar spine.

Foraminal stenosis will usually result from spinal degeneration that occurs along with the natural aging process.

The gradual deterioration of the spinal vertebrae and intervertebral discs can lead to a number of degenerative spine conditions such as:

  • bone spurs
  • herniated disc
  • bulging disc
  • arthritis
  • ligament thickening
  • facet joint inflammation

In addition, spinal injuries that result from trauma, repetitive movement, or being overweight can speed up the process or cause spontaneous degeneration. The resulting structural changes in the spine can cause the foramen to become narrower, creating less space for exiting nerve roots.

foraminal stenosis

Diagnosis of foraminal stenosis typically begins with a physical examination in which the doctor looks for limitations on movement, pain, or loss of reflexes when the patient moves their spine.

Symptoms from foraminal stenosis can usually be managed using a combination of conservative treatment methods.

back exercise

Conservative treatment of foraminal stenosis may include:

  • rest
  • exercise
  • stretching
  • analgesics
  • anti-inflammatories
  • corticosteroid injections

Surgery will only become an option when conservative treatment fails to provide relief. Initially, patients are recommended to undergo a period of conservative therapy. In most cases, this is enough to provide relief from the pressure on the nerve and for the symptoms to improve. Other treatment options include spinal injections that can help in decreasing the inflammation in the area.

Surgical treatment of foraminal stenosis typically involves a procedure called a foraminotomy to open up the foramen and give the affected nerves more space. Recovery from this procedure can sometimes take up to a year to fully heal. For some, minimally-invasive adult stem cell therapy may be an equally effective alternative.