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The intervertebral foramen or foramen intervertebrale in Latin is an opening formed on each side between two adjacent articulating vertebrae and their associated intervertebral discs. It is the principle route of entry for spinal nerves and blood vessels going in and out of the vertebral canal.
It is formed by the deep arched inferior vertebral notch on the pedicle of the vertebra from above, and the shallow superior vertebral notch on the pedicle of the vertebra from below. The generalized intervertebral foramen is bordered anteriorly by the posterolateral aspect of the superior adjacent vertebral body, and the posterolateral aspect of the intervertebral symphysis (disc included). Posteriorly, it is bounded by part of the ventral aspect of the fibrous capsule of the facet synovial joint, the zygapophysial joint between the articular processes of the two vertebrae.
Cervical intervertebral foramina can be distinguished by having equal lengthed superior and inferior vertebral notches that face anterolaterally. The thoracic and lumbar both face laterally and their transverse processes are posterior. Moreover, the anteroinferior boundaries of the first to tenth thoracic foramina (T1-T10) are formed by the articulations of the head of a rib and double synovial joints capsules. The lumbar foramina lie between two principle lines of the psoas major’s vertebral attachment; periosteal fibrous tissues cover the walls of each foramen.
The intervertebral foramen contains several structures: segmental mixed spinal nerve including its sheaths, two to four recurrent meningeal nerves, variable numbers of spinal arteries, and plexiform venous connections between the internal and external vertebral venous plexuses.
Each foramen is surrounded by bone, ligament, and joints. Therefore trauma to any of these structures or the surrounding muscles, can affect the contents within, especially the nerves. Intervertebral disc prolapse or bony entrapment as the size of the foramen is reduced can lead to nerve compression. This reduction may be due to facet joint osteoarthritis, osteophyte formation, disc degeneration and degenerative spondylolisthesis. All these conditions can result in foraminal spinal stenosis.
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