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If you’ve been recommended for spinal decompression surgery, you may be wondering exactly what you need to do to prepare and what you can expect from your surgical experience.

Although every person’s surgical journey is different, there are certain things you can do and anticipate to make the process run more smoothly for yourself.

A quick look at spinal decompression surgery

Spinal decompression surgery is used to create more room for your spinal cord. Conditions such as spinal stenosis or a herniated disc can cause the spinal canal to narrow, causing a wide range of symptoms.

The methods used can vary. In some instances, you may only need a partial discectomy, while others may warrant a laminectomy or foraminotomy.

All spinal decompression surgeries are performed under general anesthesia, which means you will be asleep for the duration of the procedure.

Preparing for your spinal decompression surgery

Preparation for surgery is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It not only alleviates stress and uncertainty going into the surgery, but it also allows you to focus on recovery.

Prior to your spinal decompression surgery, get as much paperwork as possible done. This will save you time on the day of your procedure. It will also give you the opportunity to learn what kind of insurance coverage you can expect.

Next, arrange for help once you get back home. You will need to rest quite a bit after your surgery. You’ll also have restrictions on lifting and the types of activities you can participate in. Child and pet care are two things you should consider when making these plans; particularly if you have smaller children that require lifting, diaper changes or transportation to and from school.

Other things you can do to prepare for your surgery include getting lab work done. This may include blood work or imaging studies. Your surgeon will tell you which of this testing you can have done in advance.

The day of your surgery

On the day of your surgery, you’ll need to check in early. Any paperwork that wasn’t done beforehand will be completed now. In addition, you may be given more information on your insurance and any additional costs you might expect.

Once you’ve checked in you’ll be taken back to the surgical prep area. Here you will change into a hospital gown. An intravenous catheter will be inserted, through which fluids and medications can be given to you.

Your anesthesiologist will also come by and talk with you. He or she will discuss any medication allergies you have, ask questions about pain, etc.

Once you’re ready to go back to surgery, you will be put under anesthesia and taken to the operation room.

The surgery

Your surgeon will have a team of experts working with him or her to ensure that your surgery goes as smoothly as possible. For all three of the aforementioned procedures, only small incisions need to be made in your skin. Your surgeon will then use a specialized microscope and surgical instruments designed for working in tiny spaces.

If you are undergoing a partial discectomy, your surgeon will determine which portion of the herniated disc is pressing against your spinal cord or nerves. They will then carefully remove the offending portions.

In the case of a laminectomy, a portion of the vertebra known as the lamina will be removed. This creates space for your spinal cord to move freely within the spinal canal. This is a common procedure used for spinal stenosis.

Sometimes, if the bone is weakened by the laminectomy, your doctor will also perform a fusion surgery. A fusion surgery uses bone grafts and occasionally instrumentation such as rods and screws to stabilize the portion of your spine where the laminectomy was performed.

A foraminotomy is carried out by your surgeon removing tissue or bone within the spinal canal that may be causing a narrowing. This, as with the laminectomy, creates room for the spinal cord to move more freely.

After your procedures are completed, your incision will be closed and you’ll be moved to a special area known as recovery. Here you’ll be carefully monitored until you’re awake. Your vitals will be checked, pain medication given and adjusted and once you’re are stable, you’ll be moved to another part of the hospital.

The stay in the hospital following your surgery may be anywhere from 1 to 4 days, on average. This will vary depending on the complexity of your surgery and how well you’re responding to the pain medications. During this stay, you’ll be transitioned to oral pain medications and may begin light physical therapy, if warranted.

Post-procedure tips to follow

  • When you’re ready to be released to go home, your surgeon will review your restrictions and guidelines for recovery with you. Be sure to follow all of his or her instructions, including how and when to take pain medications.
  • When you return home you’ll likely feel quite a bit more tired than usual. This is due to both the anesthesia and the fact that your body is healing. Get plenty of rest.
  • Short, frequent walks will help keep your blood flowing and a healthy, balanced diet will give your body the nutrients it needs to heal better and more quickly.
  • If you have had a spinal fusion, it is incredibly important that you not smoke. This can lead to slowed healing or even a complete failure of the bone grafts.
  • It’s important to attend any follow-ups you have scheduled with your doctor. The first one will likely occur around 10-14 days after your procedure. Depending on the procedure used, you may have to have x-rays or an MRI to track your progress.

Making preparations for your spinal decompression surgery may take a bit of effort initially, but in the long run, it will save you stress and time — energy you should be putting into recovering and getting back to your busy life!