Description of Decompression Surgery
Any surgery that relieves compression of the spinal cord or spinal nerves is considered to be decompression surgery. If the compression results from a disc herniation, the surgery is a discectomy. If the compression is because of a narrowed spinal canal that is placing pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots, this surgery is a laminectomy. A laminectomy removes the back wall of the spinal canal to create more space for the spinal cord.
Conditions Treated with Decompression Surgery
Decompression surgery is performed for the treatment of stenosis, radicular pain, spondylosis or other conditions associated with nerve compression.
What to Expect Before Decompression Surgery
Once you have decided to have neck or back surgery, the following events take place:
- A medical examination.
- Chest X-ray, EKG and blood work.
- You may be asked to have a neurological or psychological examination.
- If taking aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications daily, stop these medications at least one week before surgery.
- If you take prescription medications or other drugs, including herbals, ask your doctor how soon you should stop taking these before neck or back surgery.
- Do not have anything to eat or drink for 6 to 8 hours before surgery.
- You will check into the hospital the morning of decompression surgery.
- Prior to surgery, you will be asked to sign consents for surgery, anesthesia, blood and blood products.
What to Expect During Decompression Surgery
- An incision is made in the low back area (or in the back of the neck if cervical surgery).
- Fluoroscopy, a method used to make images, is used to determine the correct level(s) to be operated.
- The tissue, most commonly bone and ligament, that is compressing on the nerve(s) is removed.
- Sometimes fusion is performed after the decompression to stabilize the operated area.
- Surgery takes approximately 1-4 hours.
What to Expect After Decompression Surgery
- You will be in the recovery room from 1 to 1½ hours.
- The surgeon will contact your family while you are in recovery.
- After going to a hospital room, you will be able to use a PCA pump to get medication for pain control. This machine controls the amount of medication that can be received.
- Staff will usually get you out of bed the same day as the surgery.
- The hospital stay is usually 1-3 days.
- A brace or corset may be prescribed to restrict bending.
- You will be given any needed prescriptions and discharge instructions.
- A set of exercises that you can do at home will be provided.
- You will be able to ride in a car or plane upon leaving the hospital.
- Physical therapy is usually initiated after the first office visit with your doctor following surgery.
Recovery from Decompression Surgery
Recovery from decompression surgery is usually relatively brief, but it varies greatly among patients and is dependent on the age and health of the individual. Return to work also varies greatly among patients and is related to overall health and the type of work you do.