The diagnosis of cervical foraminal stenosis comes after the onset of symptoms, unless you had an MRI for another reason and just noticed the words on the report.
First there are symptoms of pain, weakness, numbness in the shoulder, arm or hand and then one will attempt to diagnose the problem. The word “diagnose” is from Latin and Greek origins meaning to discern or perceive.
So after the onset of symptoms and physical examination, your physician may order an MRI which able to reveal the diagnosis of cervical foraminal stenosis. If there is a reason that you can’t have an MRI, you will probably get a CT scan that can show stenosis and detail the bone very nicely. So the MRI and CT scans are the initial ways to demonstrate whether you have cervical foraminal stenosis.
It is worthwhile to note that your radiology report may note foraminal stenosis at multiple levels and on right and left sides, even though you may only hurt on one side. Also note that that even though you have evidence of stenosis on the report, it may never cause you any pain or problem.
There is another consideration, and that is whether the symptoms are all coming from the same level, if there is more than one level of stenosis. This is important to know if surgery is a consideration! So how does one go about figuring this out?
This brings us to the next level of diagnosis that may be necessary. In a perfect world, someone with symptoms of cervical foraminal stenosis would have only one level affected, for example C 5-6 or C 6-7, then it would be easy to decide what level needed treatment or surgery. Unfortunately, if there is foraminal stenosis at one level, it is often present at another.