Lumbar Decompression

Decompression is a surgical procedure intended to relieve pain caused by pinched nerves. Lumbar decompression involves removing a small portion of bone to give the nerve root in the back more space for healing. The two most common forms of decompression surgery are:

  • Microdiscectomy (microdecompression)
  • Lumbar laminectomy (open decompression)

Even the open decompression surgery of a lumbar laminectomy may be performed with minimally invasive surgical techniques, including pushing aside muscle tissue instead of cutting the muscles.

The procedure

The lamina of the spine is a posterior (rear) arch of the spinal bone (vertebra) that lies between the spinous process (the bones that jut out and can be felt as you run your hand down your back). Two laminae and spinous processes make up the posterior wall of the spinal canal.

The traditional laminectomy typically removes the:

  • Lamina
  • Spinous process
  • Connective tissues and ligaments

Minimally invasive surgeries aim to preserve as much of the tissue as possible, as well as sparing the spinous process and taking only one or both of the laminae.

What conditions are treated by this procedure?

Spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal, is one of the most common conditions treated by decompression surgery, which widens the spinal canal and provides more space for the affected nerves. Surgery does not affect the degenerative spine disease itself, but treats the effects of spine compression.

Decompression may relieve pressure on the spine, but not all effects of spinal stenosis are eliminated by this surgery. You may continue to feel great pain for a time after this surgery as the spinal cord heals from the compression injury. Physical therapy may help the recovery process.


Recovery time varies, but is usually a matter of days with minimally invasive surgery, and anywhere from weeks to months with conventional or traditional open surgeries.

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