Spinal Decompression + Associated Conditions

Spinal decompression is a surgical procedure intended to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or a compressed nerve root. Spinal treatment opens the bony channels through which the spinal cord and nerves pass. This creates space for them to flow freely. 

Narrowing or stenosis of the spinal cord and nerve root canals causes chronic pain, numbness, and weakened muscles in your arms or legs. Treatment options for spinal decompression therapy include medication, physical therapy, and surgery. A doctor may recommend surgical treatment if the pain is severe and/or if there are any neurological problems. If you have the following slowly advancing symptoms, you may not need surgery immediately:

  • Slight numbness or tingling in arms, legs, or feet
  • Stiffness and moderate back pain
  • Difficulty in balancing, walking, and standing for a long time
  • Pain is relieved with medication or alternative therapies
  • Resting, or ice/heal may provide temporary relief, but symptoms return

You may be a candidate for spinal decompression surgery if you have:

  • Significant pain, weakness, or numbness in your arms, legs, or feet
  • Pain seems to be more in the leg than back
  • Quality of life is affected by the inability to stand or walk
  • Not improved with physical therapy or medication
  • Diagnostic tests that show stenosis in the central canal or lateral recess.

Spinal decompression does not cure arthritis or heal spinal stenosis. It may relieve pain, eliminate symptoms, and let you get back to your life. Unfortunately, this does not mean you will never need spinal treatment again. As the degenerative aging process continues, additional spinal decompression therapy may become necessary.

How Is the Need For Spinal Decompression Surgery Diagnosed?

The most important indicator of the need for spinal decompression therapy is your relaying of your symptoms to your nurses and physicians. Your surgeon will do some response tests and will order an MRI or CT. There are several options for spinal decompression therapy. The result of these tests will provide the specific information that your physician needs to help you decide the level that is best for you. Here are some options:

  • Discectomy is the removal of a small portion of a bulging or degenerative disc to relieve pressure on the nerves. This may be because of a slipped disc or bone spur.
  • Laminoplasty is the expansion of the spinal canal by cutting the laminae on one side and swinging them open like a door. Only cervical surgery is available.
  • Foraminotomy is the excision of bone around the opening where the nerve roots exit the spine. Surgeons use this method when disc height collapses and pinches a nerve.
  • Laminotomy is the removal of a small portion of the lamina and ligaments, just to relieve the pressure on the nerve in a certain spot.
  • Laminectomy is the removal of the entire bony lamina, a portion of the enlarged facet joints, and the thickened ligaments overlying the spinal cord and nerves. Pressure can cause pain, weakness, or numbness to radiate down your arms or legs. Laminectomy restores the spinal canal space usually with bone grafts but does not cure arthritis, the major cause of this shrinking of space. Doctors may also perform spinal fusion alongside a laminectomy to help re-stabilize the spine.