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What Is a Laminectomy?

The lamina is part of the vertebral bone that covers and protects the spinal column. Laminectomy is a form of decompression surgery, in which your spine surgeon removes the lamina. This type of spine surgery is done to relieve pressure on your spinal cord. Types of laminectomy procedures include:

  • Cervical laminectomy. This is removal of the lamina from the vertebra in the neck area to help relieve neck pain.
  • Thoracic laminectomy. This procedure is done to reduce back pain caused by compressed nerves in the thoracic area, which runs from the base of your neck to your abdomen.
  • Lumbar laminectomy. This is done on the lower spine, also called the lumbar spine, to relieve low back pain or pain in the legs or buttocks.

All or part of the lamina may be removed during a decompression surgery. A laminectomy involves totally removing the lamina, while a laminotomy involves removing just part of it. At NU-Spine: The Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Institute in Edison, New Jersey, Dr. Branko Skovrlj has perfected the art of the laminectomy to reduce pain in the most effective and efficient manner.

What Are Signs I May Need Laminectomy Surgery?

Laminectomy is one of the treatments that may be recommended for certain medical conditions, especially when more conservative forms of treatment — such as rest, over-the-counter medication and physical therapy — haven’t given you the relief you expected. Signs that you may require laminectomy surgery include:

  • Increasing pain that’s interfering with ordinary daily activities or sleep
  • Muscle weakness or numbness
  • Difficulty standing or walking
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Your spine doctor has had great success treating several conditions with this procedure, including:

  • Cervical stenosis
  • Lumbar stenosis
  • Cervical disc herniation
  • Thoracic disc herniation
  • Lumbar disc herniation

If you have a herniated disc, a laminectomy allows your surgeon to gain access to the damaged area and remove the errant material that’s been causing your symptoms. This procedure may also be done to remove a tumor from your spine.

How Is Spinal Laminectomy Done?

A spinal laminectomy is traditionally an open procedure. That means your spine surgeon opens your back to get to the problem area. To have it done, you’re admitted to the hospital. This is not an outpatient procedure where you’re sent home afterward.

While the surgery is done, you’re under general anesthesia, so you not awake while your surgeon works on your vertebrae. The steps of the procedure include:

  • You’re positioned on your abdomen or on your side on the operating table.
  • Your neurosurgeon makes an incision in the skin. Using special instruments, he pushes aside tissues and muscles to access your spine.
  • The lamina is removed along with any bone spurs.
  • If your spine needs to be stabilized, your surgeon may perform laminectomy and fusion, which combines spinal fusion with the laminectomy. In this procedure, two or more bones in your spine are connected with pins and rods.
  • The incision is closed and dressed.

You may be a candidate for a minimally invasive laminectomy, which involves smaller instruments and incisions. If you get a minimally invasive laminectomy, you may need only local anesthesia, as the procedure can be done on an outpatient basis. Your NU-Spine neurosurgeon explains the difference and recommends the best option for your particular situation.

What Can I Expect After a Decompressive Laminectomy?

If you’ve had the surgery in the hospital, you’re able to go home within a day or two. Most people experience relief from pain soon after surgery, especially the pain that radiates down your leg. You should follow all post-surgical instructions given to you by your spine surgeon. You’re instructed to avoid activities such as:

  • Bending over to pick things up
  • Arching your back
  • Driving
  • Strenuous exercise
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