Recovering from lumbar decompression surgery 

When you wake up after lumbar decompression surgery, your back may feel sore and you will probably be attached to one or more tubes.

These may include:

  • a drip supplying fluids into a vein (intravenous drip), to make sure you do not get dehydrated
  • a drain to take away any fluid from your wound
  • a thin, flexible tube inserted into your bladder (urinary catheter), in case you have difficulty urinating
  • a pump to deliver painkillers directly into your veins every few hours

The tubes are usually only attached for a short time after your operation.


Immediately after surgery, you will have some pain in and around the area where the operation was carried out. You will be given pain relief to make sure you are comfortable and to help you move. The original leg pain you had before surgery usually improves immediately, but you should tell the nurses and your doctor if it doesn't.

A very small number of people have difficulty passing urine after the operation. This is usually temporary, but in rare cases complications, such as nerve damage, may cause the legs or bladder to stop working properly. It is important to tell your doctor and nurses immediately if you have problems.

It can take up to six weeks for the general pain and tiredness after your operation to completely go away.


You will have stitches or staples to close any cuts or incisions made during your operation. Deep stitches beneath the skin will dissolve and do not need removing. If dissolvable stiches are used they do not need to be removed.

Non-dissolvable stitches or staples will be removed five to 10 days after your operation. Before you leave hospital, you will be given an appointment to have your stitches removed.

Your stitches may be covered by a simple adhesive dressing, like a large plaster. When you wash, be careful not to get your dressing wet. After having your stitches out, you will not need a dressing and will be able to bath and shower as normal.


Your medical team will want you to get up and move about as soon as possible, usually from the day after the operation. This is because inactivity can increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and movement can help speed up the recovery process.

After your operation, a physiotherapist will monitor your specific needs and help you safely regain strength and movement. They will also teach you some simple exercises you can do at home to help you stay active during your recovery.

Getting home

You will usually be able to go home about one to four days after your operation. How long you have to spend in hospital depends on the specific type of surgery you had and your general health.

When you get home, it's important to take things easy at first, gradually increasing your level of activity every day. Some help at home is usually needed for at least the first week after surgery.

Being active will help speed up your recovery. You should make sure you do the exercises your physiotherapist recommended and try not to sit or stand in the same position for more than 15-20 minutes at a time because this can make you feel stiff and sore.

Walking is a good way to keep active, but you should avoid heavy lifting, awkward twisting and leaning when you do everyday tasks until you are feeling better.

You may be asked to return to hospital for one or more follow-up appointments in the weeks after your operation to check how you are doing.


When you can go back to work depends on how you heal after surgery and the type of job you do.

Most people return after four to six weeks if their job is not too strenuous. If your job involves a lot of driving, lifting heavy items or other strenuous activities, you may need to be off work for up to 12 weeks.


Before starting to drive again, you should be free from the effects of any painkillers that may make you drowsy.

You should be comfortable in the driving position and able to fully control your car, including being able to do an emergency stop without experiencing any pain (you can practise this without starting your car).

Most people feel ready to drive after two to six weeks, depending on the size of the operation.

Some insurance companies do not insure drivers for a number of weeks after surgery, so check what your policy says before you start to drive.

When to seek medical advice

Call the hospital where you had your operation or your GP for advice if:

  • there is leaking fluid or redness at the site of your wound
  • your stitches come out
  • your dressing becomes soaked with blood
  • you have a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
  • you have increasing pain, numbness or weakness in your legs, back or buttocks
  • you cannot move your legs
  • you cannot urinate or control your bladder
  • you have a severe headache
  • you experience a sudden shortness of breath (this could be a sign of pulmonary embolismpneumonia or other heart and lung problems)

Page last reviewed: 24/10/2013

Next review due: 24/10/2015