Spinal stenosis is a serious medical condition where the spaces around the spine narrow, placing pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. The condition normally occurs around the base of the neck and lower back.
Doctors may prescribe a number of treatments for spinal stenosis, but a surgical solution is often the only way to effectively deal with the symptoms. If you are facing lumbar spinal stenosis surgery, learn more about what to expect, and how the treatment can affect you.
Who should have surgery for spinal stenosis?
Your doctor may try several non-surgical treatments to ease the symptoms of spinal stenosis, but these methods cannot normally permanently control the disease. A doctor will consider a number of factors when deciding if you should have lumbar surgery.
Your doctor may recommend surgery for you if:
- You have mobility problems, such as numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
- You have started to suffer problems with bowel or bladder function
- Your pain levels are high or increasing
- You want to have surgery
The decision to undergo lumbar surgery is not one to take lightly, but is likely to offer the only long-term solution to the symptoms of spinal stenosis. It’s important to note that there is generally no window of opportunity that a patient can miss, and you can normally have surgery at any time.
What does a lumbar surgery entail?
The most common procedure for the symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis is a lumbar laminectomy. This procedure has a high success rate (around 80 percent), and generally allows patients to return to a normal, active life. Lumbar laminectomy takes around three hours to complete.
During a lumbar laminectomy (or open decompression), the surgeon will remove a small part of the bone over the nerve root. He or she may also remove disc material from under the nerve root. This creates more space, removing pressure from the nerve, and easing the painful symptoms. The procedure differs from other surgical procedures because the surgeon uses a longer incision and removes more muscle.
Are there other surgical options?
A specialist may recommend other surgical options for lumbar spinal stenosis, depending on the nature of the disease. These options include:
- Foraminotomy. A surgeon will cut or shave away bone around the nerve opening, creating more room around the nerve. He or she may also use spinal fusion to strengthen the spinal column after surgery.
- Laminotomy. Laminotomy is a less invasive procedure that does not normally require hospitalization, where the surgeon removes a small part of the bone surrounding the spinal cord.
- Interspinous process spacer. The spinous processes are small prominences found at the center of the lower back. Surgeons can implant tiny spacers, which then open the spaces between the processes, taking pressure off the spinal cord.
Your doctor will help you understand which surgical option is right for you.
What are the risks of surgery?
Spinal surgery carries risks for all patients, especially when you need general anesthesia. Older patients and people with other medical conditions are generally at higher risk of infection or blood clots. The surgeon may cause a tear in the membrane covering the spinal cord, which can delay the patient’s recovery, and may lead to further surgical treatment. Nerve root damage can also occur, but it is extremely unlikely that the patient would suffer any permanent side effects from this.
How long does it take to recover from surgery?
After a lumbar laminectomy, you will initially need to lie on your side, but most patients start to walk within a few hours of the procedure. You will probably need pain medication for a short time after the surgery. You’ll probably also find it difficult to sleep and get in and out of bed for a few days, but your doctor will show you some techniques to help you cope with this problem.
Your surgeon will normally remove any stitches after a week. You’ll then see your surgeon for a check up four to eight weeks later. It may take up to six months for a complete recovery, but your mobility should improve within the first four weeks.
Spinal stenosis is a painful condition that often requires surgical treatment. Patients undergoing surgical treatment can generally return to normal, active lives, but it’s important to make sure you know what to expect.