Lumbar Decompression surgery is designed to treat a condition called Spinal Stenosis.
This is when a section of the spinal canal becomes narrowed putting pressure on the nerves causing pain, numbness and weakness in the lower back and legs. “Decompression” means removing the tissues which are compressing the nerves or spinal cord. Usually a part of the vertebra called the Lamina is removed (sometimes partially) to relieve the pressure on the affected nerve(s). Thickened ligament can also be trimmed back and sometimes the joints need to be trimmed as well.
Your specialist will explain that there is an 80-95% chance of relieving your pain with this operation. An incision of 3-15 cm is made in your back (depending on how many levels need to be decompressed) and this will leave a small scar.
You should be aware that there is a 3% (3 in a 100) risk of leakage of the spinal fluid through the wound. This may cause headaches or a leaking or bulging wound after surgery. If leakage is seen at the time of surgery it can usually be sealed and you will be asked to lie flat for a day or two as this usually solves the problem.
The risk of wound infection is less that 2%. You will be given antibiotic with your anaesthetic to minimise this risk.
There is a risk of nerve damage from the operation. The risk is small (1-2% for each level operated on). However it can lead to a numb, painful, weak foot or leg. There is also a small risk (1%) of loss of bladder and bowel function and more extensive paralysis (cauda equina syndrome). This is not common, but is a recognised risk of this type of surgery.
There is sometimes a small risk (2-3%) of slippage of the bones in the months and years after surgery. If this happens and causes more discomfort you may need further surgery. This can happen even without surgery, simply because of “wear and tear”. The risk of this happening is outweighed by the benefit to you from this type of surgery. If you already have slippage prior to surgery your surgeon may recommend a spinal fusion as well as decompression.
The usual length of stay for this surgery is 2-3 days.
You will be given post-operative advice by your Consultant and our Physiotherapists. As with most spinal surgery you will be advised not to drive for 2 weeks.