Is Surgery the Only Option for Spinal Stenosis Patients?

Doctor preparing for surgery

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  • The most common form of surgery that spinal stenosis patients undergo is decompression surgery. This type of surgery is often done by removing tissue or pieces of bone to relieve excessive pressure on nerves
  • A surgical approach to spinal stenosis should only be considered in extreme cases, and if the patient has exhausted all other options for spinal stenosis treatment

A surgical approach to spinal stenosis should only be considered in extreme cases, and if the patient has exhausted all other options for spinal stenosis treatment. Aside for the cost of the surgery, it also poses serious possible repercussions because of the sensitive location of the surgery site and the age group of common patients affected by this condition.

Types of Surgery for Spinal Stenosis Decompression

The most common form of surgery that spinal stenosis patients undergo is decompression surgery. This type of surgery is often done by removing tissue or pieces of bone to relieve excessive pressure on nerves. Some of these are:1

Laminectomy or Laminotomy. The lamina is a thin bony layer that is responsible for protecting the spinal canal and the spinal cord. Laminectomy refers to the removal of the whole lamina to remove the pressure from the nerves, while laminotomy refers to the removal of a portion of the lamina.

But, like other surgical procedures, laminectomy comes with a wide array of possible complications and side effects. Some of the adverse effects it can have include nerve root damage, bowel and bladder incontinence and cerebrospinal fluid leak.

Foraminotomy. This type of surgery enlarges the spinal foramen or the opening where the spinal nerves exit the spinal canal. This is done to relieve the affected nerves from the excessive pressure. Surgeons usually do this by cutting out a piece of bone or shaving it until there’s a sizable gap for the spinal nerve to freely pass through.2

Lumbar microdiscectomy. This type of surgery offers a less invasive type of treatment for spinal stenosis patients. Although it offers a lower risk for side effects, its prescription varies on the extent of damage to the spinal discs. When patients suffer from a more severe form of disc degeneration, they may be advised to undergo a full discectomy where the whole disc may be removed.3

When Should You Consider Getting Surgery for Spinal Stenosis?

There are certain instances when spinal stenosis patients are encouraged to get surgery because of the severity of their symptoms or when their risk for paralysis has dramatically increased. When you experience any of the following situations, consider getting surgery done to stop it from getting worse:4

  • Noninvasive treatments have been unsuccessful in treating or lessening the symptoms.
  • You’re losing sensation and the ability to control your legs.
  • The pain that spinal stenosis causes has become unbearable or has been increasing.
  • You’re starting to have difficulties with both bladder and bowel control.

Possible Complications of Spinal Stenosis Surgery

While 70 to 80 percent of patients show significant levels of improvement after spinal decompression, there are still numerous risks that the surgery poses.5 Some of these include the following:6

  • Recurrent symptoms. Statistics show that 1 in 3 patients who undergo spinal stenosis still experience numbness and pain even after a successful surgery. They can also gradually develop the symptoms again after a year. This reoccurrence is caused by the development of new bone spurs, another slipped disc or the development of nerve scarring. Unfortunately, there is no known treatment for nerve scarring, but it can be prevented through regular exercise.
  • Paralysis. While rare, spinal decompression can lead to paralysis, especially when the spinal cord is damaged during the operation. In mild cases, surgery can lead to the development of numbness and pain in other areas of the body.
  • Leakage of spinal fluid. During surgery, spinal leakage can happen, in which case the surgeon has to patch it up to prevent complications. In rare cases, spinal fluid leaks are observed only after the surgery, causing headaches and wound leaking. This will require another surgery to patch it up.
  • Death. The estimated statistics for death during spinal stenosis is 1 in 350 patients. A higher risk of death is observed in spinal stenosis surgery because of the average age of patients affected by this condition (65 years old or above).

MORE ABOUT SPINAL STENOSIS

Spinal Stenosis:Introduction

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

Spinal Stenosis Causes

Types of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis Treatment

Spinal Stenosis Surgeries

Spinal Stenosis Prevention

Spinal Stenosis Exercises

Spinal Stenosis Diet

Spinal Stenosis FAQ


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