Laminectomy

Laminectomy is a surgery that removes the lamina (the back part of a vertebra) to create more space for the spinal canal and relieve pressure on pinched spinal cord nerves.

The spinal canal runs through an opening inside each vertebra. When the spinal canal becomes narrowed (a condition called central stenosis), bone and other tissue can press on the spinal cord nerves leading to pain, numbness and muscle weakness.

Your doctor may suggest laminectomy if you have central stenosis and nonsurgical treatments such as exercise and pain medicine have not improved your symptoms.

Some spine conditions that can cause central stenosis include:

  • Osteoarthritis of the spine
  • Herniated disc
  • Spondylolisthesis

There are two types of laminectomy: minimally invasive and open. During a minimally invasive laminectomy, the surgeon performs the procedure through a small incision with laparoscopic tools. During an open laminectomy, the surgeon makes a larger incision and cuts muscle to access the lamina.

In some cases, a surgeon will perform a discectomy or foraminotomy at the same time as a laminectomy.

Laminectomy can take up to two hours to complete. You can expect the following on the day of your procedure:

  • An anesthesiologist will give you general anesthesia through an IV before the procedure begins.
  • If you will undergo a minimally invasive laminectomy, your surgeon will make an incision that is just long enough to fit the laparoscopic tools – often less than 1 inch.
  • If you will undergo an open laminectomy, your surgeon will make a larger incision and cut through muscle to access the affected vertebra.
  • Once your surgeon has access to the affected vertebra, he or she will use tools to remove part or all of the lamina and possibly other pieces of bone or soft tissue.
  • If your surgeon removes a significant amount of bone, he or she will also perform spinal fusion to stabilize the spine.
  • The surgeon will then close the incision with stitches and cover it with a surgical dressing.

Depending on your condition and the type of laminectomy you undergo, you may go home the same day as the procedure, or you may recover in the hospital for a few days. Either way, you should arrange for someone to drive you to and from the procedure.

Most people who have a minor laminectomy are able to resume light activities within three weeks of the procedure. It can take 12 weeks or longer to return to normal activities after a laminectomy with spinal fusion. Be sure to follow all of your doctor's orders for a proper recovery. This may include pain management, wound care and physical therapy.