Foraminal Narrowing Symptoms

The foraminal canal is the pathway which nerves go through to exit the spine. When it becomes constricted and narrow, it can lead to a condition known as foraminal narrowing. This condition usually arises due to bone spurs, herniated discs or other spine materials that can narrow the canal.

Foraminal narrowing itself does not inflict any pain. However, it does increase the risk of nerve compression in the spine, which is why pain and discomfort are experienced. A constricted nerve root can cause chronic pain that occurs at the location of the nerve compression, and also through the length of the nerve pathway into the extremities.

Foraminal Narrowing Classification

Foraminal narrowing can occur at any side of the vertebrae. The passing of the nerve roots through the foramina are often located on each side of vertebrae, which is why foraminal narrowing is often classified on the side affected.

  • Unilateral Foraminal Narrowing – Only one foramen is affected
  • Bilateral Foraminal Narrowing – Both foramina are affected
  • Far-lateral Foraminal Narrowing – Occurs in the surrounding areas of the foramen

Foraminal Narrowing Locations

Because each vertebra has two foramina, foraminal narrowing can occur at any given vertebrae along the spine. The most common one is lumbar foraminal narrowing because this area tends to be under constant stress and pressure.

  • Cervical Foraminal Narrowing – Occurs through the C1 and C7 vertebrae. It affects the head, shoulders, upper back, and upper extremities.
  • Thoracic Foraminal Narrowing – Occurs through the T1 and T12 vertebrae. It affects the ribcage, shoulders, and some internal organs.
  • Lumbar Foraminal Narrowing – Occurs through the L1 and L5 vertebrae. It affects the lower back, lower extremities, and buttocks.

Symptoms associated with foraminal narrowing will vary according to its location, the nerves being affected, and the extent of the narrowing. The most common symptoms include pain, muscle weakness, and tingling. However, each location can affect different areas of the body.

Cervical Foraminal Narrowing Symptoms

Cervical foraminal narrowing symptoms often worsen with time when untreated. Foraminal narrowing in the cervical region often affects the upper back, the shoulders, and the head. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Sharp pain in the neck
  • Muscle weakness at the shoulders
  • Pain that radiates through the arms to the hands and fingers
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms

Thoracic Foraminal Narrowing Symptoms

Thoracic foraminal narrowing has symptoms similar to those associated with thoracic spinal stenosis. Because the thoracic region also houses internal organs, sometimes these will be affected. Common symptoms experienced with thoracic foraminal narrowing include:

  • Muscle weakness and spasms
  • Pain that radiates through the ribcage
  • Muscular pain that reaches the back of the shoulders
  • Pain in one or several major internal organs

Lumbar Foraminal Narrowing Symptoms

Foraminal narrowing in the lumbar region can mimic sciatica, and it is sometimes misdiagnosed. In many cases, lumbar foraminal narrowing goes completely undetected, however, if the contraction reaches the point where nerves are being severely constricted symptoms may arise. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Limited mobility
  • Lower back pain
  • Difficulty walking
  • Pain that radiates to the back of the legs and the buttocks

Foraminal narrowing symptoms are very similar to those inflicted by other conditions such as spinal stenosis and sciatica. This is why discussing all symptoms with a physician can help pinpoint the condition and better assess the symptoms.