Spinal decompression is a surgical procedure performed to relieve pressure and alleviate pain caused by the impingement of bone and/or disc material on the spinal cord or nerves. Today, this can be done using minimally invasive spine surgery.

What Is Spinal Decompression?

Decompression refers to a surgical procedure performed to relieve pressure and alleviate pain caused by the impingement of bone and/or disc material on the spinal cord or nerves. Today, this can be done using minimally invasive spine surgery.

Why Do I Need This Procedure?

A spinal decompression is sometimes performed when an intervertebral disc ruptures or herniates in the spine and puts pressure on neural tissue, such as the spinal cord, nerves and/or nerve roots. This may cause pain and other symptoms in the neck, arms and legs, including numbness or muscle weakness. Other causes of neural impingement include spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, or in some rare cases a spinal tumor.

Spinal surgeons perform a variety of procedures to achieve decompression. When determining the optimal surgical procedure, a surgeon will consider patient pathology (the structural and functional changes that led to the patient's neurological dysfunction), the level or levels of the spine affected, the patient's medical history and his or her surgical experience and training.

There are several types of decompression procedures, including:

How Is A Spinal Decompression Performed?

During a decompression procedure, your surgeon typically will, depending on the specific procedure:

  • Make an incision over the vertebra(e) to be treated.
  • Gently pull aside soft tissue - skin, fat and muscle - to expose the vertebra(e).
  • Cut away all or part of the vertebral element to relieve the source of compression.
  • Remove any other sources of compression; i.e., bone spurs and/or disc material (discectomy).
  • Ease the soft tissues back into place and close the incision.

A decompression procedure also may be performed in conjunction with spinal fusion. This involves placing bone graft or bone graft substitute between two or more affected vertebrae to promote bone growth between the vertebral bodies. The graft material acts as a binding medium and helps to maintain normal disc height - as the body heals, the vertebral bone and bone graft eventually grow together to join the vertebrae and stabilize the spine.

Today, spinal decompression also can be performed through a minimally invasive procedure that allows your spine surgeon to dilate the muscles surrounding your spine rather than separating the muscles from the spine.

A minimally invasive spinal decompression procedure typically leaves patient with only a small scar when compared to traditional, open spinal surgery. Surgical discomfort often may be relieved with medication, and some patients undergoing a minimally invasive decompression are able to go home the day after surgery.

To determine whether you are a candidate for minimally invasive spinal decompression surgery, talk with your doctor.

How Long Will It Take Me To Recover?

Your surgeon will have a specific postoperative recovery/exercise plan to help you return to your normal activity level as soon as possible. Following a spinal decompression procedure, you may notice an immediate improvement of some or all of your symptoms; other symptoms may improve more gradually.

The amount of time that you have to stay in the hospital will depend on your treatment plan. In some instances, this procedure may be done on an outpatient basis. You typically will be up and walking in the hospital by the end of the first day after the surgery. Your return to work will depend on how well your body is healing and the type of work/activity level you plan to return to.

Work closely with your spinal surgeon to determine the appropriate recovery protocol for you, and follow his or her instructions "to the letter" to optimize the healing process.

Are There Any Potential Risks Or Complications?

All treatment and outcome results are specific to the individual patient. Results may vary. Complications such as infection, nerve damage, blood clots, blood loss and bowel and bladder problems, along with complications associated with anesthesia, are some of the potential risks of spinal surgery. A potential risk inherent to spinal fusion is failure of the vertebral bone and graft to properly fuse, a condition that may require additional surgery.

Please consult your physician for a complete list of indications, warnings, precautions, adverse effects, clinical results and other important medical information that pertains to a spinal decompression procedure.

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