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UR Medicine / Neurosurgery / Services / Treatments / Spinal Decompression


Spinal Decompression

For more information, please visit our Integrated Spine Care site

What is it?

Spinal Decompression is a surgery that is performed when the spinal canal is narrow for the treatment of myelopathy in the cervical and thoracic spine, and for radiculopathy anywhere in the spinal canal. This can be done at any level, and can involve as few as one level or in rare circumstances a large portion of the spinal column. This could be for a variety of reasons including degenerative disease, pain, trauma, weakness or other neurological deficits.

What is its goal?

The goal of spinal decompression is to relieve pressure on important structures, be it nerve roots or the spinal cord itself. Decompressing these structures can relieve pain, numbness and tingling. Weakness, depending on the cause, may or may not improve after spinal decompression.

How is it done?

Your surgeon will describe to you in specific detail how he or she performs the surgery. There are multiple ways to accomplish spinal decompression and your surgeon can describe the specific approach he or she is planning on using. In most cases, general anesthesia is required. Your surgeon will use anatomic landmarks and X-Rays to identify the proper level for surgery and depending on the specific approach, opening will require retracting the paraspinal muscles (muscles attached to the sides of the spine) and removing the bone at the back. Your surgeon will then remove any abnormal bone, ligaments and disc material as necessary for completion of the surgery. The overlying tissue and skin are then closed with sutures and the anesthesia team will reverse the anesthesia and remove the breathing tube as you wake up.

What are the risks?

In addition to the standard surgical and anesthetic related risks of bleeding, infection, stroke, coma, heart attack, and death, the specific risks to spinal decompression are blood vessel damage, nerve damage, leak of cerebrospinal fluid and the need for further surgery. Most people do very well following a spinal decompression, with low complication rates.

What is the success rate?

Success rates depend on a variety of factors, depending on the level of surgery, and your specific situation. Talk to your surgeon about the specific variables that can affect your fusion rate.

How long will I stay in the hospital?

Most people will stay in the hospital between 1 – 2 days after their surgery. Various factors, such as mobility, pain control and physical therapy requirements can affect length of stay.