The goal of a decompression procedure, whether conservative, minimally invasive, or invasive, is to alleviate pressure on an impinged or “pinched” nerve in the spinal column, including nerve roots, the cauda equina, or the spinal cord itself. A compressed nerve can cause a variety of symptoms depending on the affected nerve, including back and neck pain, pain that radiates along the nerve, and muscle weakness, and treatment is usually required if decompression doesn’t occur naturally after a couple of days. The good news is that most individuals suffering from a compressed nerve find relief from conservative treatment over the course of several weeks and avoid undergoing decompression surgery.
In general, a person suffering from the effects of a pinched nerve have three types of treatment options, each with benefits and disadvantages:
- Noninvasive, conservative treatment – heat therapy, pain medication, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, and chiropractics, are all effective decompression techniques for alleviating back and neck pain. Conservative treatment can focus on both pain management and helping the back or neck heal naturally, to accomplish decompression. Conservative treatment usually lasts several weeks and alleviates most back and neck pain.
- Minimally invasive procedures – In the event that noninvasive treatments don’t provide sufficient pain relief, minimally invasive spine procedures are an appealing choice. These outpatient techniques can accomplish nerve decompression in a matter of hours and most patients are able to return to normal activity shortly after the procedure. Minimally invasive procedures are popular because they can be completed outside of a hospital, have a relatively short recovery period, and don’t incur the same risks as open spine operations.
- Open spine surgery – the traditional choice, open spine surgery can include procedures like laminectomy, posterior lumbar interbody fusion, and posterolateral fusion. These procedures usually entail partial or complete intervertebral discectomy and the installation of hardware and bone grafts to stabilize the spine. Open spine surgery is usually permanent, typically requires months of rehabilitation, and is not always effective, which makes the decision to undergo surgery difficult.
If you suffer from a pinched nerve and are in the process of considering all of your decompression treatment options, the first step is to visit your physician. Your doctor will complete a full medical review and will usually recommend medical imagery to identify the exact cause, location and severity of your nerve compression. Once this information is in hand you can determine the treatment that’s right for your exact condition.