Our 78-year old mother is terribly disabled with pain from spinal stenosis. She wants to have surgery to remove some of the bone pressing on the nerves. But she also has hypertension, a thyroid problem, and a past history of cancer. Is it really safe for her to have major surgery of this kind?
Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) causing disabling back and/or leg pain is a common problem as we get older. Many degenerative changes occur in the spine creating this condition. When conservative care fails, a surgical procedure called laminectomy can be done.

During this operation, the surgeon removes bone that is pressing on the spinal nerves. The surgery is much less invasive today than it was even 10 years ago. Improved surgical technique and surgical instruments have improved outcomes with fewer complications.

But older adults do have an increased risk of complications and even death just based on age. And age often brings with it other health problems referred to as comorbidities.

Conditions such as hypertension, thyroid disease, and cancer are just a few of the comorbidities seniors face. Any of these problems can increase the risk of surgery. Having three or more comorbidities raises the risk of complications after spinal surgery.

Surgeons are well aware of these risks. The surgeon will carefully assess your mother to see if she is a good candidate for surgery. Age and comorbidities are two important factors to consider when deciding on the best treatment approach for spinal stenosis.