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What is a laminectomy?

A laminectomy is a surgical procedure that can effectively relieve compression of the spinal nerves and so reduce the pain of spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a condition that involves a narrowing of the spinal column in the neck or back area. It often produces pain, cramping, weakness or numbness in the neck, back, shoulders or arms. This condition can develop as a result of injury to, or deterioration of, the discs, joints or bones within the spinal canal.

Spinal Stenosis Treatment

While many cases of spinal stenosis can be successfully treated through conservative methods such as rest, wearing a back brace, engaging in physical therapy, or taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, some patients do not respond to these measures. If the symptoms of spinal stenosis become progressively worse, a laminectomy may become necessary.

The Laminectomy Procedure

In a laminectomy procedure, a small section of bone that covers the back of the spinal cord, called the lamina, is removed. The removal of this portion of the bone and any nearby bone spurs relieves the pressure on the spinal cord.

A laminectomy while the patient is under general anesthesia. The surgeon makes an incision and carefully retracts the muscles and ligaments to obtain access to the spine. An imaging device such as an X-ray is typically used during the surgery to view the vertebral structures more precisely and pinpoint the problem area.

Depending on the extent of the damage, the lamina may be removed in portions or in its entirety on both sides of the spine. The surgeon will then assess the region, removing any calcified cartilage as well as the spinous processes, the sharp protrusions at the back of each vertebrae, if necessary. By removing the lamina, bone spurs and other debris, the compression of the spinal cord and spinal nerves is alleviated and symptoms improve.

If the bones within the spine have been moving against each other, a spinal fusion procedure may be necessary to promote stability. This procedure can be performed at the same time the patient is undergoing the laminectomy. The fusion involves inserting a bone graft into the space between the affected vertebrae in order to join them. The bone graft is harvested from another part of the patient’s body or is received from a donor bank The surgeon will also attach titanium metal rods, plates and screws to the vertebrae to prevent movement of the bones during the fusion process.

Recovery from Laminectomy

A laminectomy should relieve much or all of the pain and numbness in the arms, neck, or back that stenosis sufferers experience. After the procedure, the patient typically remains in the hospital for a short stay.

Soon afterward, most patients begin a physical therapy regimen to build up muscle strength and increase flexibility. Patients are advised to refrain from reaching, lifting, pushing or pulling for several weeks after the procedure. Usually, they can return to work in approximately 3 months. When a laminectomy is accompanied by spinal fusion, recovery time may be somewhat longer.

Risks of Laminectomy

Laminectomy is a spinal surgery procedure and as such, carries some risk. These risks include post-surgical infection, excessive bleeding, blood clot formation, nerve damage and adverse reaction to anesthesia.

At a Glance

Dr. Federico Girardi MD

  • Triple fellowship-trained spinal surgeon
  • Performs over 400 spinal surgeries per year
  • Professor of orthopedic surgery at Cornell University
  • Learn more

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