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Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. The spinal canal contains the nerves that leave the spinal cord. A combination of arthritis in the spine or bulging (herniation) of the discs or (in rarer cases) spondylolisthesis (where a vertebra slips forward or backward) or spinal tumours can cause this narrowing. Decompression is performed to release nerves trapped by this narrowing.

Initially your consultant may recommend anti-inflammatory medication for pain. If you have pain down your leg that is caused by pressure on the nerve in your lower back (sciatica), your surgeon may recommend a steroid injection in your spine.

What happens during lumbar spinal decompression?

You will probably have an MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis and help your surgeon plan your operation.

Decompression is usually performed under general anaesthetic. Your surgeon will make an incision (cut) in your lower back. They will remove enough bone and tissue to free the trapped nerves. They will close the incision with stitches and dress the wound.

After your spinal decompression

Immediately after your surgery you will be taken to the recovery area. Staff will monitor your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. If you are in any pain be sure and tell the recovery room staff. When you are stable a nurse will take you to your room.

Back in your room

Once you are back in your room, our nursing team will continue to check on you to make sure you are recovering well. After you’ve recovered from any effects of the anaesthetic, you can have something to eat and drink. Be sure and tell us if you are in any pain.

Some patients have difficulty passing urine after decompression surgery. If you are in any discomfort please tell a member of our Healthcare Team.

You will be encouraged to get up and move around as soon as possible - usually within 24 hours of your operation. Please wait for a member of our Healthcare Team to help you out of bed for the first time.

A physiotherapist will visit you to advise you on any restrictions and give you exercises to help you regain mobility. You may be advised to avoid bending, twisting or lifting anything heavy for the first six weeks following surgery.

Going home after spinal decompression

The length of your stay in hospital will depend on the degree of decompression performed. Be sure and discuss this with your surgeon. 

Any stitches or staples will be removed 10 - 14 days after your operation.

You will not be able to drive or return to work until you are released to do so at your follow-up appointment with your consultant. Please arrange for someone to take you home on the day of your discharge. 

You may feel very tired and sore for the first few weeks. It is important to rest and allow your body to heal. 

You will be encouraged to walk during your recovery. Start with short distances and build up slowly. Avoid sitting for long periods. Keeping mobile will help you to avoid DVT (deep vein thrombosis).

Most people make a good recovery and return to normal activities following spinal decompression. As with any surgery there can be complications:

Specific complications of spinal decompression:

  • Bleeding in the spinal column
  • Continued pain or numbness
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Infection in the spine
  • Nerve damage
  • Leaking of spinal fluid

Why not print this treatment page so you can discuss any concerns you have with your surgeon?

Find your nearest hospital that provides this treatment

67 Lansdowne Road
Bournemouth
BH1 1RW

01202 291866

Shenfield Road
Brentwood
CM15 8EH

01277 695695

Warren Road
Brighton
BN2 6DX

01273 624488

3 Clifton Hill
Clifton
Bristol
BS8 1BN

0117 906 4870

4 Trumpington Road
Cambridge
CB2 8AF

01223 303336

Cardiff Bay Hospital
Dunleavey Drive
Cardiff
CF11 0SN

02920 836700

Hatherley Lane
Cheltenham
GL51 6SY

01242 246552

Wrexham Road
Chester
CH4 7QP

01244 680 444

78 Broyle Road
Chichester
PO19 6WB

01243 530600

Rykneld Road
Derby
DE23 4SN

01332 540100

Wonford Road
Exeter
EX2 4UG

01392 262110

25 Beaconsfield Road
Glasgow
G12 0PJ

01413349441

Stirling Road
Guildford
GU2 7RF

01483 555805

Burrell Road
Haywards Heath
RH16 1UD

01444 456999

Venns Lane
Hereford
HR1 1DF

01432 355 131

Foxhall Road
Ipswich
IP4 5SW

01473 279100

2 Leighton Street
Leeds
LS1 3EB

01133 882 067

Scraptoft Lane
Leicester
LE5 1HY

0116 2769 401

Clayton Road
Newcastle-upon-Tyne
NE2 1JP

0191 281 6131

Clayton Road
Newcastle-under-Lyme
ST5 4DB

01782 625431

Beech Road
Headington
Oxford
OX3 7RP

01865 307777

Derriford Road
Plymouth
PL6 8BG

01752 775861

Longden Road
Shrewsbury
SY3 9DP

01743 282628

Staplegrove Elm
Taunton
TA2 6AN

01823 286991

Junction Road
Norton
Stockton on Tees
TS20 1PX

01642 367439

The Chase
Old Milverton Lane
Leamington Spa
CV32 6RW

01926 436351

Winchester Road
Chandlers Ford
Eastleigh
SO53 2DW

02380 266 377

Shores Road
Woking
GU21 4BY

01483 227800

Wood Road
Tettenhall
Wolverhampton
WV6 8LE

01902 754 177

Haxby Road
York
YO31 8TA

01904 715000

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