Lower back pain has long been a prevalent health concern around the world. In 2017, the prevalence of lower back pain was estimated to be approximately 7.5% of the world’s population. This totals about 577 million people.
There are numerous causes of lower back pain, as well as countless treatments that can help relieve it. Lumbar spinal decompression is one treatment strategy for alleviating lower back pain caused by a pinched nerve.
This article will discuss lumbar spinal decompression, when it’s implemented, and what patients can expect from the procedure.
Imagine if the branches of a tree were as large at the top as they are at the bottom. Now, imagine that a heavy load is placed on the ends of the very highest branches. This would put an enormous amount of stress on the lower portion of the tree trunk.
This is comparable to what we experience as humans with our spinal columns. The human spinal column is like the trunk of a tree, but we’re as large on the top of the trunk as we are at the bottom. This puts a high amount of stress on the lower back, which is also called the lumbar region of the spine.
The strain of lifting objects and twisting the spine over the course of a lifetime is exacerbated by degenerative spinal changes that occur with age. So, it’s not surprising that most of the back problems that bring patients to spinal specialists are centered in the lower, or lumbar, region of the spine.
The stresses discussed above, along with disease and/or injury, can result in a host of spinal disorders. Bulging or herniated discs, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis are among the most common.
A bulging disc is a spinal disorder that occurs when the exterior of an intervertebral disc weakens, typically from the natural aging process. This can cause the disc to bulge out into one side of the spinal canal.
A herniated disc is essentially one step further than a bulging disc. It occurs when the soft interior of the disc protrudes out through a crack in the weakened disc exterior.
Spinal stenosis can result from a bulging or herniated disc, as well as a range of other factors. It’s a spinal condition characterized by an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal.
Reduced space in the spinal canal can place stress on the spinal nerves or the spinal cord. But, decompression for lumbar spinal stenosis can effectively alleviate this stress.
Spondylolisthesis is a condition that develops when one of the vertebrae is unstable and slips out of its regular position. The displaced vertebra settles on the vertebra beneath it.
These disorders can place unnatural pressure on the nerves that emanate from the spinal column. This may cause pain, restricted mobility, and other symptoms of a pinched nerve.
Spinal decompression is a method of easing pressure on impinged spinal nerves. It can be performed either non-surgically or surgically. Lumbar spine decompression simply refers to decompression procedures performed on the lower portion of the spine.
The surgical solution for a lumbar pinched nerve involves removing a small amount of tissue from vertebrae in the lumbar region. The surgeon will remove the tissue that’s impinging, or putting pressure, on a nerve. This process is referred to as lumbar spinal decompression surgery.
There are various types of lumbar decompression surgery that may be implemented for different spinal disorders. The most common forms of surgical lumbar decompression include:
Laminectomy and laminotomy are two surgical methods of lumbar decompression that involve the lamina. The lamina acts like the roof of the spinal canal and protects the spinal cord.
Laminoplasty is a procedure that involves making two cuts in the lamina so that it swings outward, like a door. After creating a hinge with the lamina of the affected vertebra, the spinal surgeon will position small bone wedges to keep the “door” from closing. Commonly referred to as open-door laminoplasty, this procedure can effectively alleviate pressure on the spinal nerves without removing the lamina.
In foraminotomy, the surgeon creates more space around the area where nerve roots exit the spinal canal. This area is known as the intervertebral foramen. It acts as a passageway, linking the spinal canal to the periphery.
By opening up the intervertebral foramen in foraminotomy, the spinal surgeon can alleviate pressure on the spinal nerves.
Discectomy is a spinal decompression procedure that involves removing damaged intervertebral disc tissue. The spinal surgeon may remove some or all of the damaged disc, depending on the patient’s needs.
Removing tissue in lumbar decompression surgery can lead to spinal instability. So, historically, spinal fusion back surgery has been performed in conjunction with lumbar decompression surgery to stabilize the spine.
In spinal fusion, the surgeon places bone graft material in between the affected vertebrae. As weeks and months pass after the procedure, the vertebrae will fuse, forming a singular bone. By completely preventing motion in this segment, fusion effectively prevents instability following spinal decompression surgery.
Unfortunately, lumbar decompression and fusion can have certain negative effects on the body, including:
The key downside of spinal fusion is that it prevents all motion in the fused segment. This eliminates the patient’s ability to flex, twist, and bend the spine normally. As a result, patients may no longer be able to partake in their favorite sports and activities after spinal fusion surgery.
The spinal segments that are adjacent to the fused vertebrae must undergo additional stress to compensate for the fusion. This can lead to a complication known as adjacent segment disease (ASD), with which the adjacent vertebrae deteriorate at a more rapid rate. ASD can lead to lower back pain, radiating pain, difficulty walking or standing, and neurological symptoms.
Today, the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Spine) System provides an alternative to spinal fusion that preserves the spine’s natural full range of motion. This advanced spinal implant has been shown to provide better outcomes than fusion in clinical studies performed around the world.
The TOPS™ System provides an important additional treatment option for individuals with moderate to severe pinched nerve symptoms. It can provide a major improvement in lower back pain for patients who don’t respond to non-surgical lumbar spinal decompression therapy.
The recovery period for lumbar decompression surgery can vary depending on the exact procedure and whether or not spinal fusion is performed. However, patients can generally expect to wait four to six weeks before reaching their expected degree of mobility and returning to work.
Spinal fusion prolongs the recovery process for lumbar decompression surgery. It can take up to a year to fully recover from fusion. With this in mind, the TOPS™ System can significantly reduce the lumbar decompression surgery recovery time, allowing patients to return to physical activity much sooner.
Lumbar decompression surgery is an invasive procedure. So, as with any surgical procedure, it comes with certain risks.
With that said, lumbar decompression is widely performed and considered safe. Advancements in medical technology have even made minimally-invasive lumbar decompression surgery possible. This allows for greater safety and a lower risk of complications.
If you have symptoms of a pinched nerve, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about the complete scope of treatment options available to you.
Medical terminology doesn’t go out of its way to be complicated or hard to understand. It’s simply that the language has to be very precise, and that much of it comes from Latin. Hence, it can be difficult to decipher some med-speak without a little help. Take the term “lumbar laminectomy,” a fairly common surgical procedure that can help alleviate the pain, mobility limitations, and other symptoms that often accompany medical conditions of the lower spine. Indeed, the word “lumbar” refers to the lower spine. The lumber portion of the spine comprises the lowest five vertebrae of the spinal column, which bear the designation L1 through L5 – “L” standing for lumbar.
Every vertebra in the spinal column is covered in a bony sheath called the lamina, which helps protect
the nerves that run through the spinal column. But sometimes, due to injury, disease, degenerative changes, or other causes, the lamina can put pressure on nerves emanating from the spinal column, a condition referred to as a pinched nerve. Problems within the vertebrae, such as an unnatural narrowing of the spinal canal, a condition called spinal stenosis, can also result in pinched nerves.
When surgery is performed to relieve pressure on a pinched spinal nerve, a procedure called spinal decompression, it requires cutting away the portion of the lamina that is impinging on a nerve or to gain access to the interior of the vertebrae to address a condition such as spinal stenosis. In medicine, the suffix “ectomy” refers to excision or removal. Thus, cutting away a portion of the lamina is a procedure called a laminectomy. So a lumbar laminectomy is an operation in which a portion of the lamina on one of the first five vertebrae is trimmed away. A lumbar laminectomy can achieve dramatic results in alleviating the symptoms of pinched nerves. Traditionally, spinal fusion back surgery was performed in concert with a laminectomy to stabilize the spine at the point of the operation. Now lumbar laminectomy patients have an alternative that provides better outcomes than spinal fusion surgery while preserving the full range of the spine’s motion: The TOPS (Total Posterior Spine) System procedure. If you’re a candidate for a lumbar laminectomy or other spinal decompression procedure, make sure you understand all your treatment options.
What is a Laminectomy
Lumbar Laminectomy is a spinal surgery involving the removal of the vertebral bone to alleviate symptoms of spinal stenosis. Laminectomy surgery is relatively common for major surgery. Its main function is to reduce spinal pressure on the cord and nerve roots when they are being unnaturally restricted. This surgery is for those suffering from various ailments, including those sustained from past injuries, herniated disks, spinal stenosis, and tumors. While there are alternative methods to try before getting to this point, such as physical therapy, medication, and even injections, some may find this is the only path to relief.
While determining what is a laminectomy, we should deconstruct the name. Lamina is the scientific name for the vertebral bone. This surgery, Lumbar Laminectomy, is the process of removing the vertebral bone to lift pressure surrounding the spinal canal. Pressure is created by things like impacted bone injury, bone overgrowth, or growing tumors. A decompressive laminectomy increases available space and therefore alleviates any pain sufferers may be experiencing. While the surgery itself is great, so are the results.
What is Spinal Stenosis
If you are considering spinal laminectomy you may likely be suffering from spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is one of the most common spinal ailments. Since stenosis means narrowing or restricting, this condition refers to the unnatural narrowing of the spinal canal. This condition often develops for unknown reasons but can be caused by an overgrowth of either bone or tissue. Some cases may be hereditary, while others arise from an unhealthy lifestyle.
Options Before Surgery
Everyone can benefit from a healthy lifestyle, including those suffering from spinal stenosis or other spine stemming pain. Simple solutions like a healthy diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy BMI can all reduce pain and symptoms. While these are idealistic options, they also are not the solution for everyone. It is possible that someone’s back pain is so great they are limited in the forms of exercise they can partake in.
Physical therapy is another noninvasive option that patients can try before getting a lumbar laminectomy surgery. Because most patients suffer from pain in their back and legs, it can be helpful to have a physical therapist to assist in teaching the body how to move through these debilitating pains in a way that can offer some relief. Physical therapy assigned exercises to have the ability to release pressure similar to surgery, though the effects are often not as long-lasting.
Medication is also available to those suffering from inescapable pain. Some medications offered can help with both pain and inflammation so that those suffering from spinal stenosis are able to manage their symptoms throughout their day.
While these solutions can help manage and relieve pain, ultimately, they do not offer more stability to a destabilized spine, nor do they permanently create space in the spine where the pressure afflicts. In cases of long-term relief, most find that surgery is necessary to moving forward into a pain-free life.
In deciding if surgery is right for you, it helps to know exactly what is to be expected during the procedure. A doctor uses general anesthesia to put the patient under for the duration of the surgery. In the process of the surgery, the surgeon makes a small cut into the back, right over the affected area. They then enter through this cut with small tools to lift the muscle away from the spinal column. The lamina is then removed to create space in the narrowed spinal canal. In the case of a herniated disk, the doctor can then remove the parts of the disk that have herniated.
Traditionally after this, the vertebrae would be fused to create stability in the spine to supplement the removed lamina. This is done with either bone graphs, screws, or metal rods. While efficient in rendering the spine functional post-operation, it does create limited mobility that can impede some physical activities.
How to Prepare for Laminectomy Surgery
Laminectomy Surgery is major surgery. Many are intimidated by spinal surgery because it is such a crucial part of our body and people often have a fear of how their life changes after. Here is how to prepare for optimal recovery.
Once you wake from the surgery your care team checks to ensure everything has gone smoothly and your body has responded well to the spinal laminectomy surgery. While a short hospital stay is typical, some people are released the same day. This means that no matter the case, the comforts of home are not too far away.
Upon returning home, rest! Though it is healing in the long run, your body has just sustained a major injury and needs time and care to recover. Give yourself grace and let people help with things like meals and keeping the house running. Letting yourself rest at this time is crucial for long-term recovery.
It is recommended that you do not work for the first few weeks following a decompressive laminectomy. Those with less physically demanding jobs return to work sooner than those with more labor-intensive jobs. If you have a spinal fusion laminectomy recovery takes longer.
How to Make Spinal Surgery Less Traumatic
The results of lumbar laminectomy, while impressive, may take a while to work. There are records of patients taking up to a full year to complete their laminectomy recovery. Those who do go through with the surgery are also sometimes recommended physical therapy as a part of their recovery process. This leads to a long and involved path back to normalcy.
If you are looking for a way to make your laminectomy surgery and recovery less traumatic, consider a spinal implant. TOPS system uses an implant after decompression is completed to prevent the necessity for spinal fusion. Where traditionally vertebrae are fused after laminectomy surgery, TOPS implants hold the space where the vertebrae were removed, combining the relief of the surgery with all the mobility and freedom you had before.
Patients who have had a TOPS System implant report faster and easier laminectomy recoveries than those who received traditional spinal fusions. Because the spine is the foundation of the human body it is important you take the path offering the greatest recovery and mobility post-surgery. Does this look like a spine that has been fused together, or upgraded with an implant?
Life After Laminectomy
While it is a big decision to make, ultimately it comes down to regaining your life. Those who have spinal laminectomy are choosing a life free of debilitating pain and getting back the body they once knew. Lumbar laminectomy patients are often happier and healthier, having chosen the care right for them.