A foraminotomy is a decompression surgery that is performed to enlarge the passageway where a spinal nerve root exits the spinal canal. The term foraminotomy is derived from the medical term for a hollow passageway—foramen. The latter half of the term foraminotomy—otomy—means to open.
During a foraminotomy
, the spine surgeon removes bone or tissue that obstructs the passageway and compresses (pinches) the spinal nerve root, which can cause inflammation and pain. The nerve (neuro
) passageways are called neuroforamen
Where is the neuroforamen?
The neuroforamen are passageways that are naturally formed on either side (left, right) between an upper and lower vertebra. In between each upper and lower vertebra is an intervertebral disc. The height of the disc separates the two vertebrae and creates the size of the neuroforamen. Below is an illustration of the neuroforamen amid the nerve root exiting the spinal cord.
How Nerve Compression Happens and How it May Feel
When the size of a neuroforamen is reduced, there is less room for the spinal nerve, which may cause nerve compression. Symptoms may include pain, stiffness, numbness, tingling sensations, and/or weakness.
Since spinal nerves branch outward to form the peripheral nervous system, these symptoms may radiate into other parts of the body. For example, cervical nerve root compression can cause symptoms in the shoulders, arms, and hands. Lumbar symptoms may radiate into the low back, buttocks, legs, and feet.
Disorders that can cause nerve root compression include spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, a bulging or herniated intervertebral disc, bone spurs (osteophytes), and spondylosis (spinal osteoarthritis). If you have a severe case of one or more of these conditions, your doctor may recommend a spinal decompression surgery, such as a foraminotomy. Spinal decompression surgery creates more space around the nerve, which may relieve pain. Foraminotomy is often combined with laminotomy and discectomy to decompress nerves.