Spinal surgery for stenosis is typically an elective procedure. Surgeons may recommend an invasive procedure if you have severe pain in your leg(s) and/or experience numbness and your life is drastically effected by symptoms. If you haven’t been able to move about well for a long period of time, spinal surgery may be suggested—but it is important to be aware that symptoms can return after surgery. In addition, nerve impairment symptoms, like numbness or awkwardness when walking, may not improve or may return after surgery. It’s crucial to get a second opinion from a back specialist prior to having non-emergency surgery.
Consider surgical risks
All cervical and lumbar stenosis surgery poses risks of complications and should never be entered into lightly. Other less-invasive treatment options should first be considered and tried. Surgical complications from stenosis surgery may occur depending upon the severity of your spinal problems and your overall health including any other medical conditions you may have. Complications may be more serious in older adults. Possible surgical complications may include:
- General anesthesia risks and difficulties
- Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) in the pelvic area or legs, which have in rare cases traveled to the lungs
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Unstable spine may occur, more commonly after multiple surgeries without spinal fusion
- Nerve damage, involving leg weakness or paralysis
- Fibrous tissue tears which may necessitate additional surgical procedures
- Infection within the surgical wound
- Infection of the skin
- Rarely, death related to major surgery
- Complications can be more common in older patients and those with circulation impairment, diabetes and/or a smoking habit
- Other complications are possible
Other factors to consider about cervical and lumbar stenosis surgery
- Surgery may not relieve back pain and has a better track record with relieving leg pain.
- After surgery, nerve symptoms like numbness and trouble walking may not be alleviated or may return.
- Stenosis may later develop in another part of the spine.
- Tissue that was surgically removed to relieve spinal pressure may regrow and spinal or nerve pressure may resume.
- Studies have shown that patients treated through less-invasive procedures (without surgery) were as satisfied as those treated using surgical methods.
- Laminectomy surgery involves cutting into the back to remove parts of the spinal bones (vertebrae) and/or stiffened tissue that is putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves and/or crowding the spinal canal.
- Spinal fusion is a major surgical procedure which commonly takes several hours. Spinal fusion may involve bone (from a bone bank or from elsewhere in your body) to create a graft between spinal bones, encouraging new bone to grow. Instrumented fusion involves metal implants (such as rods, screws or plates) used to hold vertebrae together until new bone growth occurs.
Best ways to avoid back surgery
- See a back specialist for a second opinion
- Try all appropriate non-invasive treatment methods to alleviate your stenosis symptoms, including physical therapy, chiropractic care, exercise, and Functional Disc RehydrationTM.