Lumbar Decompression

A lumbar decompression is an operation commonly undertaken to relieve pressure (decompress) on the nerves and nerve roots in the lower (lumbar spine). It may be performed for nerve pain (radiculopathy) or symptoms of spinal stenosis.

The exact nature of the operation would be planned for your individual circumstances, as there are several structures of the spine which may be causing the problem. The commonest causes are a disc prolapse (slipped disc) in younger patients, and arthritic changes in older patients, though this is not always the case. In older patients, arthritis in the facet joints of the spine cause them to swell (rather like arthritic joints in the fingers) and this can encroach into the spinal canal and put pressure on the nerves causing apparent pain in the legs or the legs tiring quickly when walking. The other structure often involved in this process is a ligament in the spine (the ligamentum flavum) which often thickens and hardens with age.

During a decompression operation the aim is to remove as much of the offending tissue which is causing the pressure on the nerves, whilst preserving the integrity of the spine, and as causing as little disturbance to the soft tissues (muscles etc.) as possible.

Sometimes if there is any underlying instability or malalignment of the spine a decompression operation may be performed in conjunction with a stabilisation or fusion procedure to prevent further problems.

The exact nature of a decompression is unique to each patients symptoms & findings on imaging (usually an MRI scan). Mr Cass would carefully explain the underlying problems and outline the various treatment options to enable you to make an informed decision on your individual treatment.

The success rate for this procedure is 80 - 90% at reducing leg symptoms. However it is not usually performed for back pain alone.

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