What is a Foraminotomy?

November 26, 2019 by: Dr. Luis Tumialán
​​​​​​​Back Pain

What is a Foraminotomy?

The physiology of the spine is fairly complex. Most people are aware that it’s comprised of a column of building blocks called vertebrae, and between each vertebra is a gel-filled disc that helps the spine to flex,  bend and absorb impact, like shock absorbers in a car The vertebrae have openings on each side called foramen, or neuroforamen. The spinal nerves pass through these openings, traveling from the spinal cord and out to various parts of your body.


Sometimes the opening of the foramen can be quite narrow, and this can lead to the nerves passing through the foramen becoming compressed. If this happens, the patient may experience a range of neurological symptoms that interrupt their day to day life. Fortunately, there is a treatment known as a foraminotomy that can help to alleviate these symptoms.

What Is a Foraminotomy?

Foraminotomy is a form of back surgery during where the surgeon removes bone from the sides of the vertebrae in order to widen the space where the nerves exit the spine – the foramen. In doing so, the additional space eases pressure on the nerves and reduce the back pain and other associated symptoms that you have been experiencing.

When Is a Foraminotomy Recommended?

There are various reasons why a patient may be recommended to undergo a foraminotomy. These include:

  • A diagnosis of spondylosis. This is degenerative arthritis affecting the spine that can cause bony spurs to develop that narrow the foramen.
  • Degeneration of the intervertebral discs. If this happens, they could bulge into the foramen, limiting the space for nerves.
  • Spondylolisthesis. This refers to the slippage of the vertebra out of alignment, and most often occurs in the base of the spine.
  • Inflammation and enlargement of nearby ligaments.


Signs That You Might Need a Foraminotomy

Exactly which symptoms you will develop may depend on which vertebrae are affected and can vary in severity between patients. Nevertheless, you can expect to experience back pain in the affected region, some tingling, and you may experience weakness in the affected limbs. In severe cases, a patient’s bladder and bowel function may be affected and if this is the case, you may need emergency surgery to provide relief from your symptoms.


What Happens During a Foraminotomy?

Foraminotomy procedures are carried out using general anaesthesia. To start, the surgeon will make a small incision into the neck or lower back to access the vertebra which is affected. Then, using special tools, they will surgically widen the foramen in order to provide more space for the nerves to travel. It may also be necessary to remove physical blockages such as bony spurs or a bulging disc.


In some circumstances a foraminotomy can compromise spinal stability. For this reason, there may be a need to combine your foraminotomy with another procedure called spinal fusion. This is where two or more vertebrae are surgically fused together to prevent motion between them and provide stabilization of that part of your spine.


Recovery after a foraminotomy can take time, particularly if you have also had another procedure carried out as a result of your surgery. You should be able to return home within 24 hours if not the same day, but it could take several months for you to be able to lift heavy objects and be physically active. Your surgical team will talk you through your recovery in detail.

If you are experiencing back pain with associated leg or arm pain, don’t suffer a moment longer. Please contact Dr. Tumialán’s office today to schedule a consultation.

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If you are struggling with pain, weakness, loss of function, or other symptoms of spinal complications, contact Dr. Tumialán's office today.

Spine-Talks Featuring Dr. Tumialán