Back Surgery Isn't Only about Pain
Spinal stenosis is a common problem in older adults, causing low back and leg pain. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the opening where the spinal nerve roots pass from the spinal column. It is usually caused by changes in the spine that occur with aging. These changes include bone spurs, thinning of the discs, thickening of the ligaments, and overgrowth of the joint cartilage.

Pressure on the nerves from these changes causes painful symptoms, numbness and tingling, and pain with walking. Surgery to take pressure off the spinal nerve is sometimes the only treatment to successfully reduce pain. This procedure is called a nerve root decompression. The result of this treatment is varied and not always successful in reducing pain.

However, pain isn't the only measure of success. Improved physical and social function is also important to most patients. Doctors in a London hospital interviewed patients at six weeks, six months, and one year after surgery for spinal stenosis. Most improvements occur by the six-week and six-month mark for pain and physical function, but social function continued to get better for up to a year.

Surgery for spinal stenosis may not be successful in getting rid of all your pain. If you are facing surgery to reduce symptoms from spinal stenosis, you may want to think about other factors. For example, surgery may enable you to sleep better, walk longer, and get out more. These changes may not be immediate, but you may continue to improve for up to one year after surgery.
Alison H. McGregor, PhD, and Sean P. F. Hughes, MS, FRCS. The Evaluation of the Surgical Management of Nerve Root Compression in Patients with Low Back Pain. Part 1. The Assessment of Outcome. In Spine. July 1, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 13. Pp. 1465-1470.