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What is a laminectomy?

Laminectomy is a type of spinal surgery that creates space between the spinal cord and nerves by removing the lamina — the back part of a vertebra — which covers and protects your spinal canal. This surgical procedure enlarges your spinal canal, relieving the painful pressure of bony overgrowths within the spinal canal. These overgrowths are sometimes referred to as bone spurs, and are most common in people with arthritis, though they're a normal side effect of the aging process.

When is a Laminectomy Needed?

Laminectomy is an option when more conservative non-surgical treatments, including medication and physical therapy, fail to help relieve the pain or the condition may be worsening.

This surgery addresses the bony overgrowths within the spinal canal that have been narrowed causing pressure. This pressure can cause pain, weakness or numbness that can radiate down your arms or legs.

Because the laminectomy restores spinal canal space but does not cure you of arthritis, it more reliably relieves radiating symptoms from compressed nerves than it does back pain from spinal joints.

Laminectomy is recommended when/to:

  • Conservative treatments fail
  • Relieve painful “radiating” symptoms from compressed nerves
  • Restore spinal canal space
  • There is muscle weakness or numbness that makes standing or walking difficult
  • You experience loss of bowel or bladder control

In some situations, laminectomy may be necessary as part of surgery to treat a herniated spinal disc. Your surgeon may need to remove part of the lamina to gain access to the damaged disc.

What Happens During a Laminectomy?

You should expect to be fully unconscious and under anesthesia during this surgical procedure:

  • The surgeon makes an incision in your back over the affected vertebrae.
  • If one of your vertebrae has slipped over another, or if you have curvature of the spine, spinal fusion may be necessary to stabilize your spine.
  • Depending on your condition and individual needs, the surgeon may use a smaller (minimally invasive) incision and a special surgical microscope to perform the operation.

What Happens After Laminectomy?

After surgery, you may be able to go home that same day if there are no complications. You may be encouraged to try physical therapy after surgery to improve your strength and flexibility.

Depending on your lifestyle, you may return to normal activity within a few weeks (but no lifting). Note: if you also have spinal fusion with a laminectomy, which is common, your recovery time will be longer.


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