Lumbar Spinal Decompression

This page explains what is involved in surgery for spinal stenosis. If you would like more information after reading it, please ask your GP or medical health professional.

What is spinal stenosis?

The nerves that travel through the centre of the spine, or the spinal canal, can become trapped at the point where they leave the lower end of the spinal cord. This is caused by narrowing of the space, due to a combination of:

  • Arthritis in the spine
  • Bulging discs
  • Thickening of ligaments in the spine.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis are weakness and pain the legs.

Figure 1
Normal Vertebra

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Why consider surgery?

Patients who have had spinal stenosis surgery generally have less pain and weakness than before.

Can I avoid surgery?

Yes, some patients do not require surgery as their symptoms get better over time, especially if they were mild. You might consider injections of steroids to reduce pain as an alternative. This is effective in sciatica, where the pain travels down your leg due to pressure on a nerve in the lower spine.

What is involved in the surgery?

Surgery takes an hour to an hour and a half and the patient is anaesthetised.

The surgeon will operate on the lower back, where ligament tissue and bone if cut away to free the trapped nerve.

A bone graft or metal screws and rods might be used to join the bones afterwards.

Possible complications

From surgery generally

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infected wound
  • Scars at the operation site
  • Blood clots
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Chest infection

From spinal stenosis surgery

  • Loss of feeling or continued pain
  • Numbness affecting the area between your legs, resulting in lack of bowel and bladder control
  • Problems in having an erection (in men)
  • Torn membrane covering the nerves of the spine
  • Infection in the spine

How long will it take to recover from the operation?

You should be able to start walking one day after surgery. Most patients go home in three to five days. Heavy lifting is not recommended after back surgery. You will be encouraged to exercise regularly, to help you to return to normal activity levels more quickly. Consult your GP or healthcare professional before resuming exercise after the operation. Sometimes symptoms of spinal stenosis might return or you might experience backache due to wear and tear in your spine.

In conclusion

Spinal decompression surgery can help to reduce the pain and weakness of spinal stenosis and allow you to return to normal activities.


EIDO Healthcare Limited – The operation and treatment information on this website is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare. 

The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.


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