Lumbar Decompression

What is a Lumbar Decompression?

A lumbar decompression is a procedure to remove bone or soft tissue from the lumbar spine that is pressing on spinal nerves. Depending on the severity and extent of spinal compression, a minimally invasive decompression may be an appropriate option. For patients with very severe disease, prior surgery, or other conditions, an "open" procedure may be the only operation to treat symptoms.

Minimally Invasive Lumbar Micro-Decompression

During an MIS decompression, a small tube or specialized retractor is inserted onto the spine from one side. Instead of being removed, spinal muscles are separated and pushed aside. Using a microscope, abnormal bone and soft tissue are removed from around the spinal canal and spinal roots. During this procedure, there is less bleeding, less tissue damage, and the total time of surgery if often much shorter.

Open Lumbar Decompression

During a traditional or open "lumbar laminectomy and decompression," an incision is made in the center of the spine. All muscle is removed from the bones, so that the "spinous processes" and "laminae" are exposed. The entire central portions are then removed, to allow more room in the spinal canal for the spinal nerves.

  • This surgery requires the least technical skill of the procedures described here. It is the only operation performed by most spine surgeons for a lumbar decompression. Dr. Bjerke will rarely perform this procedure, except in the most severe cases.

  • The chances that the spine may become "unstable" is higher after this type of decompression. An unstable spine causes significant pain and in some cases may require a spinal fusion.

  • An "open" lumbar decompression often involves more than one night stay in the hospital for pain control and recovery.

Right: An endoscopic tube used by Dr. Bjerke during a lumbar micro-decompression. The tube is less than one inch in diameter and allows for safe and complete visualization of the spine.