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What To Expect If You Have Spinal Decompression Surgery

Spinal compression can be incredibly debilitating. Not only does the compression of your vertebrae cause back pain, but it can also lead to stiffness, numbness, leg pain, and weakness throughout the body. While conservative therapies may ease your symptoms for a while, eventually, most people need to have spinal decompression surgery for lasting relief. Here's what you can expect if your doctor has been recommending this treatment.

How do you prepare for spinal decompression surgery?

Spinal decompression surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia. As such, you will need to prepare for the procedure by fasting for at least 12 hours and ceasing to take certain medications, per your doctor's instructions. Plan on staying in the hospital for a few days post-surgery. Make sure a friend or family member can stay with you and help you out for at least 2 - 3 weeks after surgery. Before the surgery, you may want to set up a room in your home where everything you need is within easy reach of your bed. 

What happens during the procedure?

There are a couple of different approaches a neurosurgeon can take with spinal decompression surgery. Your surgeon will choose the best approach based on how your spine is compressed and whether a vertebra or a disc is directly placing pressure on your spinal cord. 

One approach is to remove a portion of an intervertebral disc to alleviate pressure on your nerves. The surgeon may also perform what is called a laminectomy, which removes the arch part of one or more vertebrae. Another procedure called a foraminotomy simply widens the canal through which your spinal nerves pass. Usually, your surgeon will let you know what approach they plan to take before you undergo surgery, but since they don't always know exactly what's going on until they open up your back, the approach may change somewhat from the original plan.

What is it like to recover from spinal decompression surgery?

As mentioned above, you will stay in the hospital for a couple of days after your surgery. During this time, you will be given pain relievers to keep you comfortable, and a physical therapist will help you become mobile again. Once you're able to move around, eat, and use the bathroom independently, you can go home to continue your recovery. You'll need to spend a few more weeks mostly resting, and then you can slowly resume physical activity under the guidance of your surgeon. You'll have regular checkups with your surgeon to monitor your progress and inform you on how quickly you can return to normal activities.

Spinal decompression surgery is the best option for fully alleviating the symptoms of spinal compression. Talk to a neurosurgeon in your area if you'd like to know more about spinal compression treatment options.