Lumbar Decompression & Discectomy

Decompression and discectomy are surgical procedures performed to alleviate pain caused by pinched nerves.

Lumbar Decompression is only recommended when non-surgical treatments have not helped to eliminate the pain a patient is suffering.

Surgery aims to improve symptoms such as persistent pain and numbness in the legs caused by pressure on the nerves in the spine.

Lumbar decompression surgery is often used to treat:

  • spinal stenosis – narrowing of a section of the spinal column, which puts pressure on the nerves inside
  • a slipped disc and sciatica – where a damaged spinal disc presses down on an underlying nerve
  • spinal injuries – such as a fracture or the swelling of tissue
  • metastatic spinal cord compression – where cancer in one part of the body, such as the lungs, spreads into the spine and presses on the spinal cord or nerves
  • There are a number of things you can do to prepare yourself for spinal surgery.

    In the weeks before your surgery it is advisable to eat a balanced diet as this can help the healing process.

    If you need to lose weight it may be advisable to see a Dietician who will instruct you on how best to achieve this. You can talk to your Consultant about this.

    If you smoke, stop as far in advance of surgery as possible. Smoking can delay or interfere with healing and may cause complications with the anaesthetic.


    Pre-Operative Assessment Clinic

    Within one month before your surgery, you may be invited to attend the Pre-Operative Assessment Clinic. During this visit you will be asked about your medical history and any medications you are taking. You will have blood tests done and may have an ECG and x-ray. This is also an opportunity for you to see the physiotherapist and nurse and to ask any questions you may have and plan for your discharge from hospital.

  • During surgery a small proportion of the bone and/or disc material near the nerve root is removed to give the nerve root more space. The important thing to note is that the surgeon does not actually remove a full disc or a bone, and you are not left with a gap in your spine.


    Modern surgery is less invasive which means it does very little damage to the muscles and ligaments, resulting in better, faster healing. Most patients get good relief from sciatica after surgery. Many people also find their back pain is improved, however some may continue to have back symptoms.


    Generally people return to most ordinary daily activities quite quickly. Nevertheless even with the best of operations, some people don’t get a good result. That is not always because anything has gone wrong or because of complications. For example, you may continue to have ongoing back pain due to stiffness, muscle weakness and lack of physical fitness. Your leg pain may not be relieved perhaps because the nerve is already damaged.

    • When your surgery is completed, you will be moved to the recovery room where you will be observed and monitored by a nurse until you awake from the anaesthesia. You will then be transferred to a ward where the ward team will work closely with you to aid your recovery.
    • You will have a drip for intravenous fluids through a vein into your arm or hand which will continue for a number of hours after your surgery.
    • You may eat when you are fully awake but we advise that you start with sips of water then a light meal.
    • You may also have a catheter inserted into your bladder to make urination easier.
    • There may be a drain tube in your back which is normally taken out the day after surgery.
    • There is usually some level of pain following spinal surgery and the anaesthetist and nurses will work closely with you to manage your pain.
    • You will get out of bed and on your feet within a few hours after surgery. This is not only safe, it is the best way to get your muscles moving and prevent post operative complications.
    • Patients are often at increased risk of falls after surgery and we advise you to read our patient guidelines on falls prevention.
Patient Information Booklet