A lumbar decompression is an operation performed on your lower back to relieve pressure on a specific nerve root or to relieve spinal canal stenosis.

Why is a lumbar decompression recommended?

This surgery is recommended when a patient has persistent leg symptoms caused either by a nerve root compression causing sciatica or lumbar canal stenosis causing leg symptoms when standing and walking. Non-operative treatment such as pain medication and physical therapy would have failed to relieve the symptoms.

How is the operation performed?

The surgery is performed under general anaesthetic via a small incision in the centre of the lower back. During the operation, your surgeon will check the correct spinal level with an x-ray and retract the back muscles. Under an operating microscope a small window is made in the bone and ligament to reveal the lining (dura) over the nerves. Removal of excess ligament and arthritic bone spurs results in creating more space for the nerves, thus relieving leg symptoms.

Depending on the type of nerve compression, this operation may be performed on both left and right sides via a single midline scar. Sometimes a wide decompression or ‘laminectomy’ is performed.

Surgery usually takes 1-2 hours per level affected. Multi-level surgery is sometimes required.

What happens after surgery?

After surgery you will be prescribed pain relief for muscle soreness in the back. You will be able to mobilise either on the evening of surgery or the next day under the guidance of nursing staff and physiotherapists. Patients normally require 1-2 nights in hospital. It is recommended that you do not drive for 2 weeks after surgery and that you have 4-6 weeks off work. After that, a phased return to work may be appropriate. Prolonged sitting, lifting and twisting with the lower back are to be avoided during this recovery period.

How successful is the operation?

Patient satisfaction rates are 85-90% and we expect 90% of patents to experience good or excellent relief from leg symptoms

What are the risks of surgery?

There is a risk of wound infection (<5%), bleeding (<1%) or spinal fluid leak (<5%). There is a small risk that your leg symptoms persist or back pain worsens. There is a very rare risk (<1 in 1000) of nerve injury causing numbness, weakness or paralysis in the legs or problems with bladder, bowel or sexual function. There is a small risk associated with general anaesthesia (heart problems, chest complications, blood clots, infection) and these risks may increase with certain medical conditions.