What are the risks of spinal nerve decompression surgery?

Risks and potential complications of spinal nerve decompression surgery (a surgery to take pressure off compressed, or "pinched," nerves in your spine) include:
  • Blood loss. Blood loss is usually very small. But as with any surgery, there is always the potential for major or even life-threatening blood loss.
  • Infection. Even with antibiotics and careful sterile techniques, there is still a very small risk of developing a wound infection.
  • Damage to the nerve sac, with leak of spinal fluid (2 to 5 in 100 cases). If the nerve sac is unintentionally opened during surgery, it will be repaired. This should not have any effect on your long-term outcome, but you may have to spend a day or two flat in bed to allow the repair to strengthen. Rarely, further treatment may be necessary.
  • Damage to spinal nerves or the spinal cord. In the event of damage to your nerves or spinal cord, you could be left with permanent pain, numbness, or weakness in your legs.
  • Spinal instability (rare). To relieve pressure on your nerves, the surgeon removes the bone and soft tissues causing the pressure. This will weaken your spine a little. Most patients have enough reserve strength in the spine to tolerate this. But in a few patients it can cause spinal instability. If this happens, you may need more surgery to fuse the weakened disk.
  • Failure to relieve symptoms. Your surgeon will do everything possible to give you the best results. Even so, surgery may not relieve all your symptoms.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.