Foraminal stenosis can cause several sensory and motor issues that can all get in the way of an active lifestyle. It is increasingly prevalent with age, but still affects a significant number of young people. As a result, a variety of foraminal stenosis treatments have been developed so as to meet the needs of patients from all walks of life.
Researching the most common methods of foraminal stenosis treatment helps to ensure that you and your doctor discover the best route to obtaining relief. Here is some information on the condition and the current standard of treatment so that you may be informed when you discuss your options with a medical professional.
What is Foraminal Stenosis?
The foramen is an opening in the spine through which nerves pass and connect with the rest of the body. When this opening is compressed, the foramen can exert pressure on the nerves it contains and disrupt their function, which may cause pain, numbness, tingling or muscle weakness.
The foramen can become compressed for several reasons, including a bone spur, a herniated disc, arthritis or ligament thickening. All of these factors are typically associated with age, but often affect younger, active people as well. While the condition has a wide range of severity from patient to patient, the symptoms associated with this condition can make it difficult to walk or even stand upright, so it’s important to understand how best to approach foraminal stenosis treatment.
Who is Affected?
Foraminal stenosis is more common as you grow older, but people often notice symptoms as early as their teenage years. Prevalence is similar between females and males, and while it is often unpredictable, obesity, smoking and a poor diet are all associated with increased risk. A sedentary lifestyle appears to increase the risk as well.
While the onset of foraminal stenosis is usually gradual, injuries to the spine that result from excessive weight bearing or repetitive motion have been shown to cause spontaneous compression. Such spinal injuries may also accelerate the condition’s progression, so it is important to address it early in order to minimize its impact on your daily life.
Conservative Foraminal Stenosis Treatments
There are many conservative treatments that may help you cope with foraminal stenosis. Initially, your doctor may ask you to get plenty of rest and take anti-inflammatory medications. Back massaging has also demonstrated a beneficial effect for many people with less severe symptoms.
Additionally, while slightly more invasive than medication or massaging, steroid injections have been shown to help control swelling and thus reduce discomfort. Most patients find that the pain from the shot is minimal compared to the pain of the condition itself.
Other common strategies for foraminal stenosis treatment are exercise and physical therapy. Exercise is important for strengthening the muscles that surround the affected area, which helps to reduce the stress on the compressed foramen and thus reduce disruptions in nerve function.
Such exercise is typically most effective in conjunction with physical therapy, as a trained physical therapist will be able to gather an understanding of your health and help you better understand the mechanics of your spine. Furthermore, physical therapists can work with doctors to better inform them about your condition and how suitable you are for other forms of treatment.
Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery for Foraminal Stenosis
Conservative treatment is effective for many people living with foraminal stenosis, but it has its limits. If you’ve been experiencing symptoms for three to six months and have not found relief with conservative treatment, it may be time to consider surgery.
Fortunately, advances in medical technology have made minimally invasive spine surgery a highly effective procedure for mechanical issues in the spine like foraminal stenosis. The goal of this surgery, known as a foraminotomy, is to widen the foramen and reduce the compressive stress on the nerves that pass through it.
To begin the procedure, the surgeon will access the foramen using minimally invasive dilation technology, which moves muscle tissue aside rather than cutting through it. While visualizing the area with an endoscope (usually), the surgeon will then remove whatever is causing the foramen to be unusually tightened, which is most often excess material from a vertebra or a disc.
In fact, foraminotomies are typically performed as a part of a microdiscectomy, in which herniated disc material is removed from the spine.
In minimally invasive spine surgery, the surgeon goes to great lengths to preserve surrounding tissue, which reduces post-operative pain and accelerates recovery. Compared to traditional open surgery, minimally invasive spine surgery has a lower rate of complications and allows patients to more quickly return to their previous level of activity.
As a result, more and more people are electing to undergo minimally invasive spine surgery for their foraminal stenosis treatment.
Closing Thoughts on Foraminal Stenosis Treatment
Mechanical issues in the spine can be complicated, so it’s important to gather as much information as possible as you decide on a course of treatment. Foraminal stenosis has a variety of causes and therefore may be resolved in a variety of ways.
It’s up to you and your doctor to develop a thorough understanding of your health and your lifestyle so that you may formulate the ideal treatment plan. Use this overview to be better informed and to formulate questions for your medical consultation.