What is decompression surgery and how can it help my back pain?

Spinal stenosis, chronic back pain, Pennsylvania Orthopedic Associates

Ongoing back pain has such a substantial impact on your ability to walk, stand, and generally get through the day that it’s the most common cause of disability in adults younger than 45.

That’s right; it isn’t just a problem you might face as you get older. The first twinge of pain occurs between the ages of 30 and 50 and within a few months, you could be in the grip of chronic pain.

Here at Pennsylvania Orthopedic Associates, we start your treatment with conservative options like injections and physical therapy. But when your pain doesn’t improve, or it worsens and begins to interfere with your quality of life, we offer another highly effective treatment: decompression surgery.

How decompression surgery helps relieve back pain

Many different conditions cause back pain by placing pressure on the nerves in your spine. When a pinched nerve is the source of your pain, decompression surgery relieves the pain by creating enough space around the nerve to eliminate the pressure.


Here’s a rundown of some of the most common back conditions that cause pinched nerves and how they do it:

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal. Since nerves travel through the spinal canal, they easily become pinched when the space gets smaller. Spinal stenosis is typically caused by the other problems included in this list.

Herniated disc

The discs between each vertebra have a gel-like center that’s surrounded by a tough outer layer. When the outer covering is weak or damaged, the center part can bulge or leak out, extending into the spinal canal and pushing against nerves.

Degenerated discs

As you get older, spinal discs tend to dry out and weaken. When that happens, they start to flatten and can’t do their job of absorbing shock and allowing flexible movement. These changes may directly pinch a nearby nerve. However, your body also responds to the stress by building bone spurs and in many cases, your pain develops as a bone spur presses against the nerves.


Spinal osteoarthritis also leads to bone spurs that compress spinal nerves.

Thickened ligaments

The ligaments that support your spine tend to thicken over time, then they can protrude into the spinal canal and affect the nerves.

Facet hypertrophy

The facet joints connect the vertebrae in your spine, providing support, stability, and flexibility. Your spinal nerves pass through the facet joints as they enter and exit the spinal canal. When degenerative conditions affect your spine, the joint enlarges, or becomes hypertrophic, to increase stability, but then it may also pinch the nerves.

Spondylolisthesis (slipped disc)

Spondylolisthesis develops when an untreated vertebral stress fracture weakens the affected vertebra, allowing it to shift forward and out of alignment with the other vertebrae. When it slips too far, it compresses the nearby nerves.

Types of decompression surgery

We perform several types of decompression surgery, with each one designed to specifically deal with the underlying problem. Here are a few examples:


During a laminectomy, we remove the entire lamina (the bone forming the back side of each vertebra), part of the enlarged facet joint, and thickened ligaments.


This procedure consists of removing a small portion of the lamina and ligaments, leaving a significant part of the spine’s natural support structure intact.


A discectomy is done to remove part or all of a herniated or degenerative disc.  


We remove bone around the foramen, which is the opening that lets nerves leave the spine. A foraminotomy is often used when the foraminal space narrows due to disc degeneration, disc herniation, or a bone spur.

Depending on the amount of the supporting bone that’s removed to relieve a pinched nerve, we may need to stabilize the spine by performing a bone fusion. In some cases, we can replace a damaged disc with an artificial disc, which is a great option that maintains stability and preserves spinal movement.

Benefits of minimally invasive spinal decompression

Whenever possible, we perform spinal decompression using minimally invasive surgery. With this technique, we make a small incision and gently separate the muscles rather than cutting them. As a result, you have less trauma and muscles are spared, which means you’ll have less post-operative pain and a quicker recovery.

Our surgeons are experts in the field of spine surgery, including decompression surgery that has helped many patients overcome their back pain. If you have chronic back pain, call Pennsylvania Orthopedic Associates to schedule an appointment, or use the convenient online booking tool.

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