Lumbar Decompression

Lumbar decompression surgery is a type of operation used to treat compressed nerves in your lower (lumbar) spine. It’s only recommended if you’ve had non-surgical treatments and these haven’t helped.

When is lumbar spine surgery done?

Spinal pain is sometimes caused by pressure on the nerves in your lower spine. This is often called nerve root compression, and it causes back and leg pain, as well as numbness. When you have lumbar decompression surgery, the surgeon makes a small incision in your lower back and removes a portion of the lamina (the roof of the spinal canal) to expose the compressed nerve. This relieves the pressure and helps ease your pain. 

Lumbar decompression surgery is often used to treat:

  • Spinal stenosis – when a section of your spinal column narrows and puts pressure on the nerves inside
  • A slipped disc and sciatica – when a damaged disc presses down on a nerve, causing severe pain

Injuries – such as fractures 

What happens afterwards?

Understanding the process of lumbar spine surgery can help you feel more confident in your recovery.  Our back pain specialists have the training and expertise to correct physical issues, but our entire team is on-hand to explain your treatment plan and support your recovery. After surgery, your body will heal, but full recovery will take some time. We will help you setsmall, achievable goals, which you can work towards, so that you are supported mentally as well as physically.

The operation: What to expect?

The incision

To relieve pressure on your spine, your surgeon will make a small cut in your lower back as you lie on your stomach. The size of the cut willdepend on how compressed your nerves are, but the surgeon will make every effort to keep it as small as possible.


The surgeon will then use a tool called a retractor to expose the lamina (a laminectomy). They’ll cut part of this away to uncover the thick ligament that covers your spinal canal.

Entering the spinal canal

Next, an opening will be made in the ligament in order to reach the spinal canal. This will reveal the compressed nerves.. With the compressed nerves in sight, the surgeon can identify the cause of the problem – you might have a slipped disc or your nerves may be compressed simply because you have a thick ligament.

Removal of a slipped disc

If your back pain is caused by a slipped disc, the surgeon will gently move the compressed nerve to one side and remove some of  the disc. Your surgeon will take out as much of the disc as they can to relieve pressure — but they won’t remove the entire thing . The nerve can then begin to heal! The space left after removing the disc will fill with connective tissue over time.

Closing the cut

To complete the surgery, the surgeon will close the cut in several layers. Absorbable stitches will generally be used, but we recommend visiting your GP surgery after two weeks to remove the suture. Occasionally, this may need to be clipped if it can’t be removed in one piece.


As with any surgery, there are risks. We take every precaution to avoid complications, but some of the more common risks possible with surgery are infection, excessive bleeding and an adverse reaction to anaesthesia. Since lumbar decompression involves the nervous system, nerve damage is another potential risk.

With our excellent clinical experience and standards, the risks associated with this surgery are low. However,unforeseen circumstances can complicate a normally no-risk procedure and lead to complications. Although this is very rare, please make sure you  discuss this with your doctor so that you feel totally comfortable before having any surgery. .

Recovering after r spinal surgery


As with most surgery, it’s completely normal to feel some pain after lumbar decompression surgery — this doesn’t mean the operation was unsuccessful or that you’ll face a slow recovery! It’s also not uncommon for your leg to ache, which is caused by inflammation of the now-decompressed nerve. As the nerve heals, the leg pain will go away. Another common experience after this surgery is muscle spasms across your back and down your legs. After your surgery, we’ll give you medication to help relieve spasms and control your pain, but applying moist heat and regularly repositioning your body can also help.

Physical activity

Once you’ve woken up from surgery you can move around in bed and rest in whatever position is most comfortable. You can also begin walking after just a few hours! During your first few trips out of bed and moving around, one of our nurses will always be with you, to support you and make sure you don’t fall. 


After your surgery, you’ll have to wait a couple of days before you can shower, and you’llalso need a waterproof dressing in place to protect the incision. Your nurse will be able to change your dressing for you. You can also massage lotion into your lower back, including around the incision, to stop your skin from getting too dry and help relieve muscle spasms.


Immediately after your operation, you’ll take fluids via an I.V. (intravenous) drip, but this will be stopped as soon as you can take regular fluids without feeling, or being sick. As your appetite returns, your diet can go back to normal. 

Emotional changes

Lumbar decompression surgery naturally causes your body to release extra hormones to help you handle the stress. As these hormones subside during recovery, it’s normal to feel tired and even discouraged. While feeling like this isn’t uncommon or anything to worry about, try to stay positive, and remember that this is only temporary. If you find that you’re still struggling with your mood after some time, make sure to speak to your support network or a trained professional, who can help you through.. 

Discharge from the Hospital

You’ll need to stay in hospital for 3 to 5 days after lower spine surgery, so that we can make sure you’re well on the way to a successful recovery before you head home.

Spine Clinic

The Spine Clinic at St John & St Elizabeth Hospital is a centre for excellence in the diagnosis, intervention and aftercare of all spinal conditions.

A patient speaking to a receptionist

Patient information

Our Hospital is renowned for providing exemplary levels of care across more than 90 services. From orthopaedics, to urology, our private GP practice and Urgent Care Clinic, our services are led by some of London’s leading Consultants. For more information, and to find a service suitable for your care, find out more about the services that we offer.

Make an enquiry

If you have any questions relating to treatment options or pricing information, get in touch with us by filling out one of our contact boxes or giving us a call on 020 3370 1030.

Our Appointments Team have a dedicated and caring approach to finding you the earliest appointment possible with the best specialist.

If you are self-paying you don’t need a referral from your GP for a consultation. You can simply refer yourself* and book an appointment.

If you have health insurance (e.g. Bupa, Axa Health, Aviva), you will need to contact your insurer to get authorisation before any treatment, and in most cases you will also require a referral letter from your GP.

If you are not registered with a GP, we have an in-house private GP practice you can use. Alternatively, we can suggest the most appropriate course of action for you to take, given your location and individual circumstances.

*Please note – for investigations such as X-rays and MRIs, a referral will be required. However, we may be able to arrange this for you through our on-site private GP.

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