Spinal Decompression Surgery

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What is Spinal Decompression Surgery?

Spinal decompression surgery is a broad term that includes several different procedures used to relieve the signs and symptoms caused by compression or pressure on the nerve roots or spinal cord. Bony growths, bulging discs, loosened ligaments or thickened joints can cause narrowing of the spinal canal and narrow the foramen, or spinal nerve openings, causing inflammation and irritation.

People with lasting back pain and other related symptoms may be unable to think of little else except finding relief because of how disruptive it is to live. Some people turn to spinal decompression therapy, either surgical or nonsurgical.

Spinal decompression therapy involves stretching the spine, using a traction table or similar motorized device, with the goal of relieving back pain and/or leg pain. This procedure is called nonsurgical decompression therapy (as opposed to surgical spinal decompression, such as laminectomy and microdiscectomy).

Spinal decompression devices use the same basic principle of spinal traction that has been offered by chiropractors, osteopaths, and other appropriately trained health professionals for many years. Both traction and decompression therapy are applied to the goals of relieving pain and promoting an optimal healing environment for bulging, degenerating, or herniated discs.

Spinal decompression is a type of traction therapy applied to the spine. The spine is stretched and relaxed intermittently in a controlled manner in an attempt to bring about several theoretical benefits including creating negative intradiscal pressure to promote retraction or repositioning of the herniated or bulging disc material and creating a lower pressure in the disc that will cause an influx and passage of healing nutrients and other substances into the disc and fosters a better healing environment. The patient should not feel pain during or after the decompression therapy although they should feel a stretch in the spine.

Spinal nerve compression causes symptoms such as:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain
  • Unsteadiness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Loss of bowel and/or bladder control
  • Paralysis

Spinal decompression surgery is usually the last resort. It is another option for treating certain types of back pain. If other measures don’t work, a spinal decompression surgery for bulging or ruptured disks, bony growths, or other spinal problems is suggested. Surgery may help relieve symptoms from pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, including pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness.

The following are the more common types of back surgery:

  • Discectomy: a portion of the disk is removed to relieve pressure on nerves.
  • Laminotomy or laminectomy: A surgeon removes a small portion of the bone (a section of the bony arch or the entire bony arch) to increase the size of the spinal canal and relieve pressure.
  • Foraminotomy or foraminectomy: A surgeon removes bone and other tissue to expand the openings for nerve roots.
  • Osteophyte removal: During the surgery, bony growths are removed.
  • Corpectomy: This procedure involves removing a vertebral body along with disks between the vertebrae.

As with any surgery, there are risks. Some of the more common risks associated with spinal decompression surgery are infection, bleeding, blood clots, allergic reaction to anesthesia, nerve or tissue damage. Another risk is that it may not improve back pain much. It can be difficult to determine who will benefit from spinal decompression surgery.

Sometimes, a combination of procedures is used and fusion of vertebrae may also be needed to add stability to the spine.

What are the risks of spinal decompression surgery?

The risks associated with these procedures include:

  • Infection,
  • Bleeding,
  • Blood clots,
  • Nerve or tissue damage,
  • Allergic reaction to anesthesia.

Spinal Decompression Therapy Procedure

Patients are fully clothed during spinal decompression therapy. The doctor fits patients with a harness around the pelvis and another around the trunk. The patient either lie face down or face up on a computer-controlled table. A doctor operates the computer, customizing treatment to specific needs. Treatment may last 30 to 45 minutes and you may require 20 to 28 treatments over five to seven weeks. Before or after therapy, patients may have other types of treatment, such as Electrical stimulation (the electric current that causes certain muscles to contract), Ultrasound (the use of sound waves to generate heat and promote healing), Heat or cold therapy.
While spinal decompression therapy may be recommended as a potential treatment for a variety of lower back pain conditions, as with all lower back pain treatments, it is the patient’s decision whether or not to have the treatment.
Although the risk is low, the benefit of these treatments is not established. It is still the discretion of a Physician whether or not a patient is a good candidate for nonsurgical spinal decompression or not. It is not recommended for pregnant women. People with fracture, tumor, abdominal aortic aneurysm, advanced osteoporosis, and metal implants in the spine should not have nonsurgical spinal decompression.

Recovering from spinal decompression surgery

Length of stay in the hospital depends on the type of surgery you had completed. You will be given pain medication to keep you comfortable so you can participate in therapy. Rehabilitation typically includes physical therapy.

Is spinal decompression surgery successful?

At least 80 to 90% of patients who have surgery to relieve pressure on their nerve roots experience successful outcomes. A possibility exists for the symptoms to return, as decompression does not treat the degeneration of the spine due to the normal wear and tear associated with aging.

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