The curved design of the human spine is a delicate connection of bones, ligaments, and fluids that can absorb a surprising amount of impact without damage. However, the spine is not indestructible. Injury and normal wear and tear pain can cause a number of spinal conditions, including foraminal stenosis, which requires the care of a pain management Dr.
Understanding Foraminal Stenosis
Foramen are the small openings between the bones of your spine — or vertebra. Those openings house the delicate nerves that branch out from the spinal cord to the rest of your body. Foraminal stenosis is a type of spinal stenosis that specifically affects the foramen. Nerve roots can get trapped and pinched when stenosis causes the foramen openings to narrow.
Causes and Risk Factors
Unfortunately, foraminal stenosis is common, especially for older adults. Over time, the spinal cushions wear down, spaces between the bones shrink, and blockages can cause the spinal column to become smaller. Other causes of foraminal stenosis include:
- A bulging or herniated disk
- Bone spurs
- Degenerative disorders such as osteoarthritis
- Tumors or cysts on/near the spine
- Genetic conditions
- Enlarged spinal ligaments
- Bone disease
No matter what the cause, foraminal stenosis can affect all, one, or a few of your vertebrae. Which nerves are involved depends on the location of the stenosis.
Symptoms of Foraminal Stenosis
Nerves that get pinched as a result of foraminal stenosis can cause pain, weakness, trouble standing, numbness, or burning sensations in the part of the body the nerve services. Pain may be severe or mild, chronic or intermittent. A pain management doctor can help you find solutions to the nagging pain and help you enjoy an active lifestyle again.
Cervical foraminal stenosis is caused by compressed foramen in the neck. Pain or discomfort caused by cervical foraminal stenosis affects the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers.
Lumbar foraminal stenosis is caused by compression of the foramen in the lower back region. The back, buttocks, thighs, knees, feet, and toes will be affected.
How Does a Pain Management Dr. Treat Foraminal Stenosis?
Nonsurgical treatment for foraminal stenosis is safe and effective. Your pain management expert may suggest any of the following to reduce your discomfort:
- Pain medication, either prescription or over-the-counter
- Physical therapy
- Muscle strengthening exercises
- Corticosteroid injections
- Alternating activities
- Dorsal root ganglion stimulation
- Radiofrequency ablation
- Peripheral nerve stimulation
- Spinal cord stimulation
The pain management experts at institutes like St. Louis Pain Consultants often recommend Superion to their foraminal stenosis patients. Superion treatment is a minimally-invasive outpatient procedure that is especially effective in relieving the symptoms of stenosis.
Superion is a mechanical spacer that is placed between the sinuous process and vertebral bodies. The spacer slowly widens the foramen to provide more space for the nerves. The treatment does require anesthesia, however, the entire procedure lasts only 15-30 minutes and patients go home the same day.
When you live with chronic pain, it can feel like your choices have been taken away. Either you risk surgery or live with the pain. A pain management doctor can offer several non-surgical options that you may not have realized were available.