Home > Treating Back Pain > What is Spinal Decompression?

What is Spinal Decompression?

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 13 Oct 2013 | comments*Discuss
Spinal Decompression Surgery Nerve

The spine is a complicated part of the anatomy and is made up of the vertebrae, discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments and of course the spinal cord. From the spinal cord stem many different nerves and nerve roots which are susceptible to damage and becoming compressed by the anatomy that surrounds them.

Certain conditions and spinal stenosis can cause the nerves to be compressed (or ‘squashed’) which causes a lot of pain for the person along with numbness and tingling of the extremities. When this occurs, pain relief may not be sufficient to relieve the discomfort and other forms of treatment may be needed including the possibility of an operation to find out what is pressing on the nerve and try and remove the substance or alleviate the pressure.

What is Spinal Decompression?

Spinal decompression is a form of surgery used to offer relief of back pain. The procedure involves the surgeon exposing the spinal column and determining where the pressure on the nerve stems from (this process is assisted by the use of x-rays and scans). When the area has been located, the pressure on the nerve is alleviated by relieving or removing whatever is pressing on the nerve.

The surgery itself is often very successful and alleviates almost all patients of some if not all of their discomfort and it is now a fairly commonly used form of treatment for this problem.

The operation involves the use of a general anaesthetic and positioning the patient on their front in such as position that allows for easy access to the particular area of spine that is affected. If bone is found to be the cause of the nerve compression (which it almost always is) the surgeon will try and remove a suitable amount of the bone that relieves the pressure on the nerve. In some instances this may mean that the spine temporarily loses some of its mass and therefore strength and stability which is treated by using either a bone graft or the use of metal rods and screws that serve to re-stabilise the spine.

Is there any Alternative?

It is likely that most patients will be offered either physiotherapy, osteopathy or both before surgery is considered as these treatments are a lot less traumatic and invasive fore the patient as well as being a lot cheaper to offer than surgery itself.

What is the Recovery Period Like?

Many patients are surprised to learn that they will be encouraged to mobilise fairly soon after surgery (providing there are no surgical or post-operative complications) and some patients are on their feet in just 24 hours. You will be visited by a physiotherapist in the days following your operation who will determine how quickly you should mobilise. You will be given advice and instructions on the best ways to slowly start walking again and these should be followed properly to avoid any unnecessary complications.

It is unlikely that you will be permitted to drive or return to work until 3 to 6 weeks have passed and you have been seen by your doctor who will have liaised with the physiotherapists regarding your recovery.

Spinal decompression surgery is a fairly common way of treating back pain caused by nerve compression when other forms of treatment have failed. In most cases it is successful with most patients being relieved of most if not all of their pain and discomfort prior to the surgery.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
I am a 61 year old man, I had a spinal fusion of the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebra in 1981 and then a decompression and fat graft to the sciatic nerve 1984. since then I have also had numerous herniated disc episodes that have had me laid up for 4 to 6 weeks at a time now at age 61 I am in constant lower back pain daily and have recently only been offered Cortisone injections for this condition, having had cortisone injections before my first surgery which only had very short time effect I am not too happy about this course of treatment, yet after the spinal decompression in 1984 I felt like a new man which lasted for many many years. Is private treatment my only option or can the NHS do this for me?
piggot - 13-Oct-13 @ 8:11 AM
Hello, i was involved in a RTA in 2004 and have sufferred back pain ever since. The back pain usually lasts fro two months; however the current back pain has been there for around six months without showing signs of easing. The doctors have diagnosed Sciatica due to the symptons. Exercise usually makes the pain worse. Does this mean that surgery is required? I have recently had an MRI scan which revealed a decompression of the spine down the lower right hand side. Thanks Paul G.
Warrior - 3-Jul-12 @ 7:23 PM
Hi, i had a spinal Decompression 2 years ago which i have had to have metals in my back, i am still in a lot of pain and discomfort, and have a burning feeling constantly in my back,A scan i had recently has shown that there is a nerve still trapped and i will need to be opperated on again, i am having another CT scan in a couple of days to see the extent of the damage, is this quite common? I am 50 years old.
Hells - 15-Jun-12 @ 4:22 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Micky
    Re: Ligament Damage and Back Pain
    I had prolapse of rectum op in 2001.he also said he had repaired a ligament.cane home couldn't bare down to open bowels.lost…
    21 April 2017
  • Vis
    Re: Spinal Dislocation
    i have enjoyed the literature.
    17 April 2017
  • KFreedOM
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    I'm so glad to have read this article about dehydration affecting the disc. It just happened to be something that I was curious about and decided…
    26 December 2016
  • Kal
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    I was suffering from sciatic pain for nearly 1 year and don't have any idea what is the reason for pain. After 1 year 3 weeks back I went to…
    26 November 2016
  • Skb24 going on 75
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    I am 24 and i have severe back pain i have a buldging disc in my L1 and L5 almost my entire lower lumbar is dehydrated and i have lost nearly 50%…
    21 November 2016
  • billa
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    I am 25. My mri result shows I hv got dehydration of L4/5 disc.my doctor advice me to take Diclofenac and hv physiotherapy ,but I Still hv pain…
    16 October 2016
  • Salsybar
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    Hello all Im a newbie on here ...my long road started 4 years ago I had always been a fitness fanatic..vegetarian and look after myself At the…
    14 October 2016
  • Lorie
    Re: Dehydrated Discs
    All dics on mri are dehydrated with bulging at c4 and c5 also L4 and L5 amd an elongated conus medullaris. I have radiculopathy from neck to…
    7 October 2016
  • madan
    Re: Spinal Dislocation
    My father is 51 his spin has dislocated Lower region due to this he suffer pain on his one whole leg suggests me what should we do
    13 September 2016
  • zane
    Re: Spinal Dislocation
    I can literally see one of the nobs(disks or whatever it's called) on my back that is moved to right of my spine and out of line with the rest…
    25 August 2016
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the BackPainExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.