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What is a Foraminotomy?

A foraminotomy is a surgery that relieves pressure on spinal nerves compressed by the intervertebral foramina. Disorders that can cause nerve root compression include spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, a herniated disc, bone spurs, and spondylosis.

Symptoms of cervical nerve root compression are numbness or tingling in the shoulders, arms, and hands. Lumbar compression symptoms may radiate into the low back, buttocks, legs, and feet. Many of these symptoms can be improved through medication and physical therapy. For patients who fail to improve using conservative methods, foraminotomy may be an option.

Reasons for a Foraminotomy

Most neck pain does not require surgery, but a foraminotomy may be recommended for patients who have debilitating symptoms that affect quality of life, even after trying more conservative treatments, such as medication and physical therapy.

Degenerative arthritis of the spine is one of the most common reasons that a foraminotomy is performed. Congenital problems or skeletal disease could also necessitate the procedure.

What to expect during surgery and recovery

You may need an MRI or other imaging before the procedure. Prior to surgery, smokers will be urged to quit. Patients might be encouraged to eat a diet high in protein prior to surgery to aid with healing.

A foraminotomy enlarges the passage where a spinal root leaves the spinal cord. The surgeon makes a minimally invasive incision in the back, peeling away the muscle to reveal the bone underneath, and cuts a small hole into the vertebra itself. The surgeon visualizes the foramen and removes impinging bone or disc material.

Patients usually go home the same day or spend one night and can increase their activities over the next few weeks. Your spine surgeon will give you specific information related to your particular condition and lifestyle goals, as well as a detailed description of the surgery and instructions on how to make the best recovery.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

The UTHealth Houston Neurosciences Spine Center brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists who work together to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. People who suffer from radiculopathy, spondylosis, spinal stenosis, herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, peripheral nerve disorders, spinal cord injury, or other trauma benefit from our collaborative expertise in managing spine disorders.

Our multidisciplinary teams of specialists share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Anatomy of the neck and spine

The spine is divided into the following regions:

  • The cervical region (vertebrae C1-C7) encompasses the first seven vertebrae under the skull. Their main function is to support the weight of the head, which averages 10 pounds. The cervical vertebrae are more mobile than other areas, with the atlas and axis vertebra facilitating a wide range of motion in the neck. Openings in these vertebrae allow arteries to carry blood to the brain and permit the spinal cord to pass through. They are the thinnest and most delicate vertebrae.
  • The thoracic region (vertebrae T1-T12) is composed of 12 small bones in the upper chest. Thoracic vertebrae are the only ones that support the ribs. Muscle tension from poor posture, arthritis, and osteoporosis are common sources of pain in this region.
  • The lumbar region (vertebrae L1-L5) features vertebrae that are much larger to absorb the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects. Injuries to the lumbar region can result in some loss of function in the hips, legs, and bladder control.
  • The sacral region (vertebrae S1-S5) includes a large bone at the bottom of the spine. The sacrum is triangular-shaped and consists of five fused bones that protect the pelvic organs.

Spine Disease and Back Pain

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8100, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.