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What can I Expect After Lumbar Decompression Surgery?

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  • Written By: Terri Forehand
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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There are two types of lumbar decompression surgery. The first is micro-discectomy, or micro-decompression. The second is lumbar laminectomy, or open decompression. A person's expectations after such a surgery should be in line with the extent of the procedure, the duration of anesthesia, and personal reactions to medications. While a micro-discectomy requires only a tiny incision or two and may even be done on an outpatient basis, a lumbar laminectomy is more involved and will likely require a few days in the hospital.

Post-surgery expectations for the micro-discectomy should include pain at the small incision site, fatigue, tingling in the extremities, and minimal to no drainage from the incision. Nausea may be attributed to the anesthesia. You will be expected to lie flat for a specified length of time depending on your physician, the extent of the repair, and whether any other surgical procedure was performed. If you are given certain types of pain medication — such as an epidural — during your lumbar decompression surgery, you may not be able to feel your lower extremities for several hours while the medication wears off.

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The micro-discectomy's incision area will require little more than a 2- x 2-inch (5-cm x 5-cm) dressing or bandage. You may have dissolvable sutures or a glue-like substance closing your incision, so suture removal may not be needed at your post-operative physician visit. Hospitalization is short term or possibly even an outpatient stay, depending on your support system after discharge.

A lumbar laminectomy, the open lumbar decompression surgery, is slightly more involved and will most often require a few days in the hospital. Your incision will be from 1 inch to 4 inches (2.5 cm to 10 cm) long, depending on the area of repair and whether a spinal fusion was part of the surgery. The incision may drain a small amount on the first day but should not have any drainage after the initial dressing is removed. Any leaking of clear fluid should be reported immediately to the healthcare team.

Depending on the type of pain control your physician decides to have you use following your lumbar decompression surgery, you may have a patient-controlled pump that dispenses pain medication through an intravenous line in your arm or hand. You will feel drowsy right after the procedure and soon after pain medication is administered. You may feel tingling and a small amount of pain the first few days after surgery. You may need assistance with going to the bathroom or changing from a sitting to standing position during the first 24 hours.

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