Lumbar Decompression Surgery Complications and Recovery

Lumbar decompression surgery is used to treat compressed nerves in the lower (lumbar) spine and it is often recommended when all forms of treatment have been attempted without success.

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of Lumbar decompression surgery, possible complications, recovery time, and what you can do to speed it up. 

Why would a person need Lumbar decompression surgery?

There are many back issues that may require Lumbar decompression surgery to help improve or regain mobility and relieve pain. 

These issues are as follows:

A slipped disc – This is when the disc (the soft tissue between the vertebrae) moves out of place and presses down on one of the nerves.

Spinal StenosisStenosis involves the narrowing of the spinal column, which like a slipped disc, applies pressure to the nerves, causing pain.

Sciatica – This is generally caused by a slipped disc but is specific to the unaligned tissue pressing down on the sciatic nerve. 

Metastatic spinal cord compression – This is related to a tumor as a result of cancer, which forces one of the organs, such as the lungs to press against the spinal cord or the nerves around it. This can be very serious and lead to significant complications.

Injuries to the spine – This could include impact injuries, such as a fracture, or tissue swelling. This could be a result of an accident, or a problem that has gradually worsened over time. 

What does Lumbar decompression surgery entail?

If you have sought medical advice and lumbar decompression surgery has been recommended to you, then you will be required to have one of the three procedures below:

Laminectomy – During a Laminectomy, part of, or sometimes all of the vertebral bone (the lamina would be removed. This procedure helps to ease pressure on any affected nerve roots or the spinal cord, this could be related to a spinal injury, metastatic compression, or a condition such as Sciatica as we outlined above. 

A laminectomy would only be advised if the patient has tried a range of treatments that have not helped to ease the pain, or improve their mobility. 

Discectomy – A Discectomy removes part of the lumbar herniated disc in the lower back which is applying pressure to the spinal cord or on a nerve root. 

This generally takes place as a microdiscectomy and requires a specialist microscope to view the problem area. This means the surgeon would only need to make a small incision, reducing the amount of damage caused to any surrounding tissue. 

This procedure may also be combined with a laminectomy. 

Spinal Fusion – Spinal fusion surgery involves permanently connecting two, or multiple vertebrae so they can no longer move. The process works in the same way as broken bone does when it heals, effectively copying a natural occurrence. 

A small piece of bone will likely be grafted from another part of your body to help bridge the vertebrae together, this will then be connected using multiple metal screws, rods, and plates, forming a singular, solid mechanism. 

As the procedures are considered major surgery, you would of course be placed under a general anesthetic so you are unconscious during the entire operation and will not feel any pain. The procedures usually take around an hour to complete but this can be extended if the surgery is particularly complex. 

What are the complications of Lumbar decompression surgery?

The success rate of lumbar decompression surgery is regarded as very high but despite that, the surgery itself does carry some risk and complications, just like any major surgery of this type.

These possible complications can include:

  • Possible infections at the site of the operation, which could sometimes spread to other parts of the body. 
  • Blood clots could develop in a leg vein which is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Although uncommon, a clot could even detach from the leg and travel to the lungs, resulting in a potentially life-threatening issue, a pulmonary embolism. 
  • The procedure could damage one of the spinal nerves or the cord itself which may lead to numbness and weakness in one, or both legs. In extremely rare cases, this has even resulted in some paralysis. 

What is the average lumbar decompression surgery recovery time?

The average time for Lumbar decompression surgery recovery is around four-to-six weeks. 

Of course, this timeframe can differ depending on a person’s general health, the seriousness of the problem before the surgery, and other factors such as disabilities and age. 

A person should be fine to leave the hospital one to four days after the surgery has been completed but this may differ depending on the reasons stated above. 

What can help speed up lumbar laminectomy surgery recovery?

Below are 5 helpful tips to help speed up the recovery time of lumbar decompression surgery:

  1. Exercise – Although it is often said that a person recovering from surgery should get plenty of rest, this is somewhat of an outdated theory. Studies show that exercise and keeping active can help get a person back on their feet in less time as it encourages blood circulation.

Keep exercise to a moderate level and do not overexert yourself, avoiding things like weightlifting and contact sports. It may be sensible to get in touch with a physical therapist who can devise an exercise plan for you. 

  1. Quit smoking – This is a great time to stop this expensive and life-threatening habit as smoking has been proven to weaken bones and contribute to the degeneration of the spine, significantly lengthening the time needed for it to heal. 
  1. Mobility – Walking is one of the best ways to help speed up the healing process as it prevents potential muscle atrophy and blood clots, as well as improving circulation. Try to avoid sitting and lying down for long periods of time. 
  2. Diet – While recovering, your body needs food so make sure you eat right and stay healthy. Foods that are high in protein, with plenty of antioxidants are recommended, and avoid foods that are high in sugar or have processed carbohydrates as this can increase inflammation. 
  1. Take care of the wound – Do not submerge the wound in water for two weeks after the surgery, instead use a washcloth to gently dab the area and follow all doctor’s instructions.

We hope this guide has been of help and answered any questions you may have about lumbar decompression surgery.