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Lumbar spinal decompression surgery

Lumbar decompression surgery reduces pressure on your spine caused by conditions including slipped discs and spinal stenosis

Surgeon pointing at a vertebra model to explain how lumbar spinal decompression surgery works
Lumbar spinal decompression surgery (also known as lumbar decompression surgery) is a type of surgery used to relieve compressed nerves in the lumbar region (lower part) of your spine.

The most common reasons for having lumbar spinal decompression are:

  • Spinal stenosis
  • A slipped disc
  • Sciatica (which might be caused by a slipped disc)
  • An injury

The above are all conditions that can put pressure on the nerves in your lumbar spine. This pressure can cause a variety of difficult symptoms, including pain or numbness in your legs.

Decompression surgery can be a very effective treatment for compressed nerves, though it won't be recommended unless other, more conservative treatments have already been exhausted.

This page will tell you everything you need to know about lumbar spinal decompression surgery, including the symptoms and conditions that can lead to you needing the operation, what to expect when you come to hospital, and what your recovery journey might look like. There's also information about how much it costs to go private, and how we can help you spread your payments to make it more affordable.

If you think you might need spinal decompression surgery, or would like to speak to one of our experts about any back problem or spinal concern book online or give us a call today.

What is the lumbar spine?

Your lumbar spine is the part of your spine between your ribs and pelvis - it's also known as your lower spine, though you might think of it more simply as your lower back.

It is also possible to have spinal decompression surgery on the other two parts of your spine: the cervical spine (neck region) and the thoracic spine (middle portion).

The cost of lumbar decompression surgery in the UK will vary depending on various factors, including which hospital you choose and the specific type of decompression surgery you need.

The cost of spinal decompression surgery with Circle Health Group starts from £11,725*

This is a fixed-price package cost, which includes your operation and any aftercare or follow-up appointments you need. It doesn't include the fee for your initial consultation, or any diagnostic tests you have during that appointment.

If you are paying for yourself, we offer flexible payment options that allow you to spread the cost of treatment and pay monthly over a period of one to five years.

If you have private health insurance, spinal decompression surgery will usually be covered by your policy. You should speak to your insurer directly to find out.

* This is a guide price for patients paying for themselves. The actual cost will be confirmed in writing ahead of time.

The surgery cost of spine decompression (1-2 levels)

Please be aware that the following prices are a guide price. Your final price will be confirmed in writing following your consultation and any necessary diagnostic tests.

Patient pathway Initial consultation Diagnostic Investigations Main treatment Post discharge care Guide price
Hospital fees N/A Not included £11,525 Included £11,525
Consultants fees from £200 N/A Included Included £200
Guide price £11,725

Lumbar decompression surgery is used to treat nerve compression happening in your lower spine, which usually shows in symptoms that affect your lower limbs. Compressed nerves can cause symptoms including:

  • Leg pain
  • Numbness or reduced sensation in your legs
  • Pins and needles
  • A feeling of weakness in your legs

Decompression surgery can relieve the pressure on your spine, which can reduce these symptoms. It won't be the right treatment for everyone, however, and we will usually try less invasive methods first.

If you are suffering with the above symptoms and they're really impacting your quality of life, and you find that conservative methods don't ease the problems, spinal surgery might be the right choice for you.

The most common conditions to be treated with this type of spinal surgery are:

Spinal stenosis

Lumbar spinal decompression surgery is often used to treat spinal stenosis, which is a condition where part of your spinal column narrows, putting pressure on the nerves inside.

This can cause pain, numbness or weakness in your leg or legs, making walking difficult or painful.

A slipped disc

In between the bones in your spine are soft cushions of tissue known as discs. They support your spine's flexibility, allowing you to bend and twist.

Slipped discs (also known as herniated discs) are quite common. It means a disc has moved out of position, which can often put pressure on your nerves.

Most people won't need surgery for a slipped disc, but if a slipped disc is causing severe symptoms, then lumbar decompression surgery could fix the issue.


Sciatica is the name given to the symptoms that happen when your sciatic nerve is compressed. The usual symptoms are pain, numbness, weakness or tingling in your legs, feet and buttocks.

Sciatica is often caused by a slipped disc.

A spinal injury

An injury to your spinal cord or to the soft tissues or bones around it can lead to pressure on the spinal nerves.

Metastatic spinal cord compression

This is where cancer from elsewhere in your body spreads to your back and presses on your spinal column.

At Circle Health Group, almost every patient journey will start with an initial consultation. This is where you will meet your specialist and start to get to know each other.

Even if you have already had a diagnosis elsewhere, it’s crucial that your consultant spinal surgeon makes their own diagnosis, and we do this with every person we see. They will start by taking a detailed medical history, and they’ll ask about your symptoms, how long you’ve been having them and how they affect your life, and whether you’ve had any treatment to date.

Then you will have a physical examination, where your consultant will examine your spine and often your lower limbs too. They’ll want to see the issue first-hand. They might also take routine tests such as blood pressure or heart rate checks. And even if you have already had scans such as an MRI, they might arrange for you to have more.

During this initial consultation, you should feel free to ask any questions you might have about anything you like. No question is too trivial. This is an important part in your treatment journey and you should feel involved and informed at all times.

Once they have all the information they need, your consultant surgeon will talk you through their diagnosis and the available treatment options. Together, you’ll decide on the best plan of action for you as an individual.

If lumbar spinal decompression surgery is the right choice for you, your consultant will put together a fixed-price treatment plan, bespoke to your individual needs. Once this is agreed, we can get you booked in for surgery at a time that suits you.

There is nothing in particular that you need to do in order to prepare for your surgery. However, the speed of your recovery can depend on how healthy you are before surgery, so we might encourage you to make certain lifestyle choices before the operation.

For example, if you are a smoker, we will recommend that you stop smoking, and we might encourage you to exercise more than usual in the runup to the procedure. It can be beneficial to drink less alcohol, too, and we may give you advice on a healthy diet.

Certain medications can't be taken while you're awaiting surgery, and you might need to fast for a period of time before the operation, but your consultant will tell you all of this specifically ahead of time.

They will also recommend that you prepare your home for your return after surgery, moving anything that you might trip over, stocking up your pantry with easy foods, and arranging for someone to help you for the first week or so.

Lumbar decompression is a type of surgery most commonly carried out under general anaesthetic, which means you'll be asleep the whole time and won't feel any pain.

Spinal decompression surgery is usually performed as open surgery, meaning your surgeon will make a large incision into your back and 'open you up' to access your spine. Minimally invasive techniques can be occasionally be used for some types of decompression surgery however they are not appropriate in all cases and can't be used to treat every condition. The majority of spinal decompression operations will be performed as open surgery.

Lumbar decompression surgery can be performed in various ways, and there are three main elements to the process. If you have spinal decompression on your lumbar spine, it will usually involve one or more of the following procedures.


A lumbar laminectomy is done to remove sections of bone or tissue that are pressing on your spinal cord. Your lamina is the part of your spine that covers your spinal cord. Part of this bone, and maybe the ligaments or other tissues around it, will be removed by your surgeon, reducing pressure on your spinal nerves.


A discectomy is done to treat a slipped or herniated disc. The operation involves removing part of the disc so that it stops putting pressure on your nerves.

Your surgeon will only remove as much of the disc as they need to in order to relieve the pressure. The rest of the disc is kept to protect your spine.

Spinal fusion

Another way to reduce the pressure on nerves in your back is called spinal fusion, which is where two or more vertebrae (the interlocking bones that form your spinal column) are fused together. This is done by adding an extra bone between them, which might be secured using screws and rods.

The bone is usually a graft from elsewhere in your body or from a donor, though sometimes synthetic bone substitutes are used.

Spinal fusion reduces the movement between the fused vertebrae, which reduces the risk of compression in the nearby nerves.

Whether you have one or more of the above procedures during your lumbar decompression surgery, the operation will finish with your surgeon closing up your back again, sealing the incision using stitches or surgical staples.

Everyone's spinal surgery recovery timeline will be different, as it is affected by personal factors such as your age and fitness level, as well as what type of decompression surgery you have had.

This timeline gives you a rough guide to what to expect after you wake up from your operation, but your consultant will be able to give you much more detail and a more accurate picture of what you personally should expect.

Recovering in hospital

When you first wake up after your operation, you might feel groggy for a while, but this is usual as the general anaesthesia wears off. You will have some pain where we made the incision into your back, but we'll make sure you have enough pain relief so that you're comfortable and can still move around.

The day after surgery, we'll encourage you to get up and start walking around again. Your physiotherapist will come to help you get moving and to start talking you through your rehabilitation plan.

As soon as we're comfortable that it's safe for you to be discharged, you'll be able to go home. This is usually within four days.

You won't be able to drive yourself home from hospital, so we recommend that you arrange for a friend or family member to collect you.

Recovering at home

When you get home from hospital, you'll need to take it easy for a while. You might be in some pain still, and you'll certainly be feeling very tired. It's important to have help for at least a week after your operation, as even simple tasks will take it out of you.

At first, your wound will be covered with a dressing that you'll need to keep dry. So you'll have to be careful when you wash, and might need to avoid having a proper bath or shower.

If your surgeon used non-dissolvable stitches or staples, these will need to be removed five to ten days after surgery. We'll make sure to arrange an appointment for you. After this, you can go back to washing as normal.

Your physiotherapist will have given you an exercise plan to follow during your recovery period. Following this will give you the best chance of a full and quick recovery. Start small and gradually build up your activity levels over time.

4-8 weeks after surgery

Most people need to take at least four weeks off work and even for an office job you might not feel well enough to return until eight weeks have passed.

If you have a job that involves heavy lifting, driving lots or doing strenuous activities, you might need to take longer off work - perhaps three to six months. Your consultant will be able to tell you ahead of time if they think this is likely.

You won't be able to drive at first, and you'll have to check with your insurance company and your consultant about when they think it's safe for you to be back on the road. Some people might be back driving after two weeks, for others it will be more like six weeks.

You should continue to do your physiotherapy exercises for as long as your consultant and physiotherapist recommend, even if you're starting to feel better. The more committed you are to your exercises, the sooner you should start to feel like yourself again.

3-6 months after surgery

After three months, many people feel almost back to normal, though it can take up to six months to fully recover from lumbar decompression surgery.

Most people make a good recovery overall and find that their symptoms ease significantly.

When to call a doctor

If you experience any of the below symptoms after your operation, speak to your consultant or your GP immediately.

  • Leaking fluid from your wound
  • Redness around your wound
  • Blood that soaks through your dressing
  • If you have a temperature
  • Any pain, numbness or weakness, for example in your legs or back

Spinal decompression surgery is a common operation and is not considered to be a high risk procedure. But it is a major operation and, as with any surgery, there are potential risks.

General complications of any operation:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection in the surgical wound
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Blood clots
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Chest infection
  • Heart attack or stroke

Specific complications of this operation

  • Continued pain or numbness
  • Numbness between your legs, loss of normal bowel and bladder control and, in men, problems with having an erection
  • Tear of the thin membrane that covers the nerves in your spine
  • Infection in the spine
  • Damage to the spinal cord (rare)

If you're worried at all about the risks of back surgery, speak to your consultant surgeon. They can talk you through everything in relation to your personal circumstances and risk levels, which should put your mind at ease.

Keith has an active lifestyle as an avid cyclist and model aircraft flyer. He began building and flying model aircrafts shortly after his retirement, committing to the passion by flying two to three times a week. He says: "It's such a thrill to see what you've made with your own hands go up into the air and fly for the first time." 

Not long after retiring from his career in the chemical industry, Keith developed a mild and irritating pain in his lower back. While he thought the pain would improve with medication, it became increasingly worse, preventing Keith from doing the things he loved, including flying model aircraft. He felt his world collapsing around him as the pain became debilitating and he was unable to make the most of his passion.

Keith contacted The Alexandra Hospital in Manchester to seek treatment for the pain immediately. He says: "I never really considered contacting anybody else. The Alex is such a nice place to be and you're always seen so quickly. It's very efficient and the facilities are just incredible."

Keith was diagnosed with a cyst in his lower spine that was putting pressure on a nerve, causing his pain and decreased mobility. Keith was impressed by the speed at which he was diagnosed (through a thorough examination and an MRI scan) and treated with lumbar decompression surgery with consultant neurosurgeon Mr Kanna Gnanalingham.

"It was less than two weeks between me meeting with my consultant Mr Gnanalingham for my first appointment, having an MRI scan to be diagnosed, and having the operation itself. They work very quickly and efficiently at The Alex. I wish I had contacted them from treatment sooner." Keith

The procedure was a great success and after recovering well Keith is now back flying model aircrafts regularly. He would recommend the surgery to anyone with similar back problems.

Watch more of Keith's story below.

We answer some of the most commonly asked questions about lumbar decompression surgery.

How serious is spinal decompression surgery?

As with any type of surgery, there is a small chance of major complications as a result of this operation. But rest assured that these are rare.

Still, spinal surgery is major surgery, so we won't recommend it unless it's the right choice for you. For many people, non-surgical treatments can be very effective at treating back problems.

What is decompression in spinal surgery?

When we talk about decompression in spinal surgery, it refers to any operation done to reduce the pressure on your spinal nerves. This is done my removing or repositioning any bones and tissues around your spinal cord that have been pressing on your nerves.

What can you not do after spinal decompression?

There are certain activities you will need to avoid for a while after you have lumbar decompression surgery. These include any strenuous exercise or activities, driving, and lifting anything heavy. You will need to take around 4-6 weeks off work. You will also probably need to keep your incision site dry for a while as it heals.

Your consultant spinal surgeon will tell you everything you need to know about your recovery and what to expect.

How much does spinal decompression surgery cost in the UK?

The cost of private back surgery in the UK will vary depending on which hospital you choose and what treatment you need, as well as factors personal to you.

The cost of spinal decompression surgery at Circle Health Group starts from £11,725.* For a more tailored quote, call one of our advisors.

* This is a guide price for patients paying for themselves. The actual cost will be confirmed in writing ahead of time.

How long does pain last after spinal decompression?

You will probably have some pain for about 6 weeks after your operation, and you might feel very tired for a while too. This is normal after surgery.

Your consultant will let you know exactly what to expect so that you can tell them if you feel you're in more pain than you expected.

When you choose to go private with Circle, you can expect:

  • Fast access to expert treatment, without the waiting list
  • Consultant-led treatment from start to finish
  • Clinical excellence in a calm and peaceful environment
  • Bespoke treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Private ensuite rooms, delicious meals tailored to your dietary needs, and generous visiting hours for your loved ones
  • Fixed-price packages with the reassurance of six months’ aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of treatment

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in October 2022. Next review due October 2025.

  1. Lumbar decompression surgery, NHS
  2. Lumbar decompression surgery, NHS Inform
  3. Spinal (lumbar) Decompression, Nuffield Health
  4. Lumbar Decompression Back Surgery, Spine-Health
  5. The outcome of spinal decompression surgery 5 years on, NIH

Why Keith went private for spinal surgery

 Keith had spinal surgery at The Alexandra Hospital in Manchester to treat a painful cyst on his lower back. Find out how the surgery transformed his life.

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