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7 Answers to Your Questions About Spinal Stenosis Surgery

Spinal decompression and fusion are types of neck (cervical) and back (lumbar) surgery. These procedures treat a condition called spinal stenosis. What exactly is it? How do you know if spinal surgery is appropriate for your case? To gain a better understanding, here are 7 answers to questions you may have about surgery for spinal stenosis.

What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis can occur in the neck or low back. The space in the spinal canal becomes narrower. This can create pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Spinal stenosis is caused by bone spurs and disc herniation from disc disease.

Does spinal stenosis cause back pain?

Pressure on the nerves caused by spinal stenosis can lead to pain in the center of the neck or low back. However, pain and symptoms are more common in the extremities, or arms and legs.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can range in severity and may be experienced in any combination. Possible symptoms in the arms, legs, neck, or back may include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Heaviness
  • Tingling
  • Difficulty walking
  • Clumsiness

A number of lifestyle changes can improve these symptoms, such as exercise, losing weight and improving your diet. In some cases, the narrowing is severe enough that surgery is the most effective treatment.

What is decompression surgery? What is fusion surgery?

The purpose of decompression surgery is to relieve the pressure on the nerves or spinal cord. During this procedure, the surgeon will perform microscopic removal of the bone spurs and disc herniations.

If the spine is not stable, the bones may need to be fused together. This is called fusion surgery. The purpose of the surgery is to fill the space between the vertebra in order to provide stability to the spine. This requires some combination of bone graft of your bone and bone bank bone. The spine is usually held in position with metal instrumentation, so that the bone graft can heal completely.

Are there alternative methods to eliminate the pain experienced from spinal stenosis?

Yes, various nonsurgical methods may in some scenarios help to reduce the symptoms of spinal stenosis. For example, staying fit, losing weight, taking Vitamin D (to maintain bone density) and taking anti-inflammatory medicine may help reduce pain.

How long does the surgery take?

Surgery for spinal stenosis will usually take between 1 and 2 ½ hours.  Depending on the extent of the surgery, you may be able to leave the hospital or surgery center the same day. Patients who spend the night after surgery rarely need to stay a second night.

Could there be any complications to surgery?

Yes. Complications are possible with any type of surgery. Potential complications can include infection, bleeding, blood clots, and nerve damage. However, minimally invasive spine surgery techniques have significantly reduced these complications.

Making a Decision about Surgery

We understand how difficult life can be when you are living with neck or back pain. Our goal is to help you get back to a fully-functioning and active lifestyle. Deciding whether to opt for spinal surgery is an important decision. There are potential risks to this procedure, but if the alternative options are not appropriate for your case, spinal surgery may be necessary.

To make a more informed decision, contact us at Pacific Spine Specialists in Tualatin, OR to set up a consultation with our orthopedic spine surgeon Timothy L Keenen, MD. The consultation with Dr. Keenen will help you determine if spinal surgery is the right option for you. Pacific Spine Specialists serves patients from all over Portland and the Northwest.

  • Oregon Medical Association
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • Scoliosis Research Society
  • North American Spine Society