Stenosis is a term used to describe a narrowing of various parts of the body. Cervical stenosis is a degenerative disease where the spinal canal and neural foramina narrow and compress the spinal cord and nerve roots. Foraminal Stenosis specifically refers to the narrowing that occurs in the neuroforamen of the cervical spine. The neuroforamen is the tunnel through which the nerve roots travel as they leave the spinal canal. Foraminal stenosis can be attributable to an acute process like a disc herniation or a chronic process like degeneration in the disc or facet joints.
The symptoms of cervical foraminal stenosis are very similar to that of disc herniation, except that disc herniation is an acute event, while stenosis is a chronic, slowly progressive process that can have episodes of worsening. Patients who have severe cervical foraminal stenosis may suffer from a shooting pain that can feel a bit like an electric shock, especially when they extend their neck and look upwards toward the ceiling. Foraminal stenosis may also cause numbness, weakness, burning sensations, tingling, and pins and needles in the involved extremity.
Physicians diagnose cervical stenosis when patients have characteristic symptoms and there is evidence on x-rays that there is not enough space available for the spinal cord. A physician may use also use a MRI to determine whether or not the neuroforamen is narrowing and where the narrowing is occurring, the degree of the compression, and any nerve roots that may be involved. Removal of the obstruction that caused the symptoms usually gives patients some relief.