Catholic Health Formanotomy Back Pain

Foraminotomy is a surgery that widens the opening (foramen) in a vertebra through which spinal cord nerves pass. When this opening becomes narrowed (called foraminal stenosis), bone and other tissue can press on the spinal cord nerves causing pain, numbness and muscle weakness.

Your doctor may suggest foraminotomy if you have foraminal stenosis and nonsurgical treatments such as exercise and pain medicine have failed to improve your symptoms.

Spine conditions that can cause foraminal stenosis include:

  • Osteoarthritis of the spine 
  • Herniated disc
  • Spinal tumor
  • Spondylolisthesis

There are two versions of foraminotomy: minimally invasive and open. During a minimally invasive foraminotomy, the surgeon performs the procedure through a small incision with laparoscopic tools. During an open foraminotomy, the surgeon makes a larger incision and cuts muscle to access the affected vertebra.

Foraminotomy can take up to two hours to complete. You can expect the following on the day of the procedure:

  • • An anesthesiologist will give you general anesthesia through an IV before the procedure begins.
  • If you will undergo a minimally invasive foraminotomy, your surgeon will make an incision that is just long enough to fit the laparoscopic tools – often less than 1 inch.
  • If you will undergo an open foraminotomy, your surgeon will make a larger incision and cut through muscle to access the affected vertebra.
  • Once your surgeon has access to the affected vertebra, he or she will use tools to remove bone and other tissue and widen the narrowed foramen. 
  • In some cases, the surgeon will also perform a laminectomy to further relieve pressure on the spinal cord nerves.
  • The surgeon will then close the incision with stitches and cover it with a surgical dressing.

You will stay in the hospital for at least one night to recover. You may need pain medication during this time. You should arrange for someone to drive you home once you are discharged from the hospital.

Upon your return home, be sure to follow all of your surgeon's orders for a proper recovery. This may include wound care and physical therapy. Most people who have a foraminotomy are able to drive within two weeks after the procedure and return to light work in four weeks.