Cervical foraminal stenosis

Cervical foraminal stenosis

In the neck, the foramen are the holes on either side of the vertebrae where the nerves exist the spinal cord and go out into the body. Obviously these holes need to be large enough so the nerves can pass through and not become pinched or compressed. Cervical (neck) foraminal stenosis implies that the holes have become smaller and now the nerves are getting pinched as they pass through. The usual way this stenosis occurs is through the loss of intervertebral disc height (thickness) as we age. This is a normal part of ageing, but for some more than others. As we age our intervertebral disc become thinner and these act like the spacers between vertebrae. Without thick spacers (discs) our vertebrae sit too close to each other and there isn’t much room in between for our nerves to pass through. Other reasons in the neck for the foramen to become smaller is arthritis and bone spurs or a disc injury that bulges into the foraminal space.


The most common feature of cervical foraminal stenosis is neck pain. This particular cause of neck pain develops slowly. Foraminal stenosis typically does not cause an acute episode of neck pain, unless it is an acute flare up of a pre-existing issue. Neck pain may develop over many years. Neck pain associated with cervical foraminal stenosis is typically movement or position related. That is, its worse with positions that naturally close the foramina such as looking up. Patients may struggle to lay on their back and may need quite a few pillows to open up the neck.


The treatment of cervical foraminal stenosis really depends on how advanced it is. In some cases conservative treatments from our chiropractors and physiotherapists will be more than enough to control any symptoms. Typically this will reduce pain and bring about normal function to the neck. However if the foraminal stenosis is advanced surgery may be the best form of treatment. Surgery decompresses the vertebrae or makes the holes (foramen) in the neck bigger so there is less compression on the existing nerve roots.