What are the different types of spinal decompression surgery?

Spinal decompression surgery is a procedure used to relieve pressure from pinched nerves in the spine. The main cause of compressed nerves is a condition called spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spaces around your vertebrae. This can lead to pain in the lower back or neck, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness. 

During spinal decompression surgery, portions of one or more vertebrae are shaved away near the pinched nerve to give it more space and allow it to heal. Here, we discuss the different types of spinal decompression surgery, as well as what you can expect from your procedure.

When do you need spinal decompression surgery?

Spinal decompression surgery is used to treat spinal stenosis, which is when certain spaces in your spine start to get more narrow. This leaves less room for your spinal cord and the nerves that branch off of it. When the spaces around your vertebrae and spinal cord get smaller, nerves around your spine may get pinched or irritated. Spinal stenosis can happen naturally as you age, or it can be caused by scoliosis or spinal injury.

For some, spinal stenosis can lead to back pain or sciatica. If your condition causes pain that affects your everyday life, your doctor may suggest spinal decompression surgery. Typically, you will try more conservative methods of pain relief first, such as medication or physical therapy. If those don’t help relieve your back pain, it may be time to look into surgery. 

The specific spinal surgery you get will depend on the location and severity of your compressed nerves. Specific factors that may lead you to consider surgery include:

  • Your symptoms are severely affecting your quality of life
  • You can no longer participate in or enjoy everyday activities
  • You experience difficulty walking or maintaining your balance
  • Your condition is affecting your bowel or bladder control
  • You are having problems with sexual function

What are the different kinds of spinal decompression surgery?

Spinal stenosis can be caused by a variety of factors. These can include bone spurs on the vertebrae, herniated disks, tumors in the spinal cord, and spinal injuries. There are a few different types of spinal decompression surgery that can help give relief from pain and other symptoms. (We talk about one of them, diskectomy, in this blog post.) 

The other types of spinal decompression surgery are:

Laminectomy: During this procedure, a surgeon removes part of the lamina, which is the outer “roof” of the spinal canal. (The lamina is the part of the vertebra that you can feel if you reach back and touch your spine.) This removal widens your spinal canal and helps relieve any pressure on the nerves or spinal cord.

Laminotomy: This surgery is similar to a laminectomy, but the surgeon only removes a small part of the lamina instead of the entire thing. Your doctor may recommend a laminotomy if they can pinpoint the specific spot they need to remove to relieve your nerve pressure. 

Foraminotomy: This procedure is used to widen the opening in the center of one or more vertebrae (called the foramen) by surgically removing some bone and tissue.  This allows more room for your spinal cord and can take pressure off of any pinched nerves.

Foraminectomy: A foraminectomy is the same procedure as a foraminotomy, except it involves removing larger amounts of bone and tissue from the center of the vertebra. 

Sometimes, depending on the nature of the back pain, a surgeon may need to combine two of the above procedures. This means removing bone and tissue from both the lamina and the foramen. 

If your surgeon removes enough tissue and bone to make the spine less stable, they may combine these procedures with a spinal fusion. During spinal fusion surgery, a bone graft is inserted between two or more vertebrae to permanently fuse them together. This can restore stability and strength to the spine.

What can you expect after your foraminotomy or laminectomy procedure?

Your spinal decompression surgery should improve your symptoms, especially if your spinal stenosis was causing pain in your legs or arms. However, this procedure is less likely to improve your actual back pain. Your specific results will depend on the nature of your spinal stenosis, as well as your recovery process. Additionally, if you have severe arthritis, you may notice your pain returning over time.

To get the best results from your spinal decompression surgery, take care to follow your doctor’s advice about your recovery. They will give you specific guidelines for how much activity you can handle during the weeks and months following your procedure. They may also recommend physical therapy to help heal and strengthen your back as you recover after your surgery.

If you have painful pressure between your vertebrae that’s affecting your everyday life, spinal decompression surgery may be able to give you the relief you’ve been looking for. However, finding a top-quality surgeon at a fair price isn’t always easy. 

With New Choice Health’s Spine Surgery Assist program, you can find up-front cost information, financing, and discounts for your spinal decompression procedure. Then, when you’re ready, you can reach out to one of our Care Coordinators to help you schedule your surgery with a healthcare facility and surgeon that you trust.

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