Back surgery (spinal surgery)

At Spire our highly skilled surgeons and expert aftercare team use trusted and clinical proven surgical techniques to repair damage to your back and help you enjoy your usual activities again.

Sometimes also called

  • Discectomy
  • Laminectomy
  • Lumbar decompression
  • Microdiscectomy
  • Spinal decompression surgery
  • Spinal fusion test

At a glance

  • Typical hospital stay
    1-4 days

  • Procedure duration
    At least an hour, varies according to type of surgery

  • Type of anaesthetic

  • Available to self-pay?

  • Covered by health insurance?

Why Spire?

  • Fast access to treatment when you need it
  • Consultants who are experts in their field
  • Clear pricing with no hidden charges
  • 98% of our patients are likely to recommend us to their family and friends

What is back surgery?

Different surgical procedures to remove or repair worn or damaged bones (vertebrae) or discs in your spine. Back surgery may also be used to relieve pain due to pressure on nerves (sciatica).

The type of surgery depends on the cause of your back pain, including:

Back surgery can relieve back pain and help you become more active again, but for many people it's not necessary. Your doctor will usually recommend it only after you’ve had back pain for some time and have tried other treatments that haven't worked for you.

These treatments include:

  • Gentle exercise
  • Painkillers
  • Physiotherapy
  • Psychological therapy
  • Spinal injection therapy

Your doctor will assess your symptoms and will probably recommend an X-ray, a CT scan or an MRI scan. Our fast diagnostic service means you won’t have to wait long to find out if back surgery is right for you. At this appointment your consultant will discuss which back pain treatment would be best for you and your lifestyle, so it’s a good time to talk about what you want.

Find your nearest Spire hospital

Almost all our hospitals offer back surgery and have teams of orthopaedic (bone and muscle) and spinal surgeons who specialise in back pain treatment.

Spire Nottingham Hospital

How back surgery works

There are many different types of back surgery and your consultant will recommend the one that will be best for you, depending on your condition. In some cases, more than one type of surgery will be performed in the same operation.

The most frequently used operations include:

Spinal (or lumbar) decompression surgery: discectomy and laminectomy


In this slipped disc or herniated disc treatment, your surgeon removes part of a damaged disc in your spine. A disc is a fluid-filled cushion of tissue that sits between each vertebra and acts as a shock absorber. If it's damaged, fluid can leak out and put pressure on your spinal cord and surrounding nerves.

There are two types of discectomy:

  • Open discectomy – your surgeon accesses the damaged disc through an incision in your back or neck
  • Microdiscectomy – your surgeon inserts a camera to see the damaged disc and can perform the procedure using a much smaller incision in your back


Your surgeon removes the back part of one or more of your vertebrae to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. Your doctor may recommend laminectomy if you have spinal stenosis, where the spinal canal is narrowed through wear and tear.

Spinal fusion

Your surgeon takes a piece of bone from elsewhere in your body (usually your hip) to insert between two vertebrae to strengthen them, perhaps after a break or fracture. Spinal fusion may also benefit you if one of your vertebrae is displaced and is causing pain (spondylolisthesis).

Back (spinal fusion) surgery

Watch how back surgery takes place

Your operation: what to expect

How long does back surgery take?

Your operation will take at least an hour, but may take much longer if you need a more complex procedure.


You’ll have a general anaesthetic, so you'll be asleep and unable to feel anything during your operation.

Pain after back surgery

As with most operations, you’re likely to feel some discomfort afterwards, which may last days or weeks. You’ll be given painkillers and we can help you manage any pain as you recover. The good news is the severe back pain you felt before your back surgery should go away, so you should be your active self again in a few months.

Your hospital stay

The average hospital stay is one to four days.

Q & A

Alwyn Jones, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

Talking about back surgery 

Your recovery: what to expect

How quickly you recover from your surgery depends on how fit you were before, and on the type of operation you have.

Physiotherapy and ongoing treatment

Our expert aftercare team will encourage you to walk around the day after surgery, and our physiotherapist will take you through a series of exercises to do at home. It’s important to carry on with these to speed up your recovery, strengthen your muscles and avoid getting blood clots in your legs.

If you have stitches, one of our nurses will visit you at home to remove them after around 10 days.

Your lifestyle after treatment

Most people who have back surgery find that their symptoms improve, so they’re free from pain again and can move about easily. Your doctor will discuss how to enjoy your usual activities safely, and may advise against some activities, like heavy lifting or awkward twisting, until you're fully recovered.

Risks and complications

Most people have back surgery without complications, but all surgery carries some risks, which your consultant will talk through with you before you go ahead. These can include:

  • Blood clot in your legs
  • Damage to spinal nerves or cord
  • Infection
  • No improvement in back pain
  • Paralysis (this is exceptionally rare)

At Spire hospitals, your safety is our top priority. We have high standards of quality control, equipment and cleanliness and an ongoing system of review and training for our medical teams.

Treatment and recovery timeline

Everyone's different, but here’s a rough guide to recovery from back surgery:

View interactive timeline View full timeline

1-4 days

In hospital

2-6 weeks

Start driving again (check your insurance policy)

4-6 weeks

Return to work if your job isn’t too strenuous

Up to 12 weeks

Return to work if your job involves a lot of driving or heavy lifting

2-3 months

Return to your usual activities

  • 1-4 days

    In hospital

  • 2-6 weeks

    Start driving again (check your insurance policy)

  • 4-6 weeks

    Return to work if your job isn’t too strenuous

  • Up to 12 weeks

    Return to work if your job involves a lot of driving or heavy lifting

  • 2-3 months

    Return to your usual activities

The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.

Get in touch


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