A laminectomy is spine surgery that removes a part of the spine, called the lamina, to relieve pressure on a pinched nerve root that is causing pain. A laminectomy typically is performed to relieve pain — particularly leg pain — caused by herniated discs, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and other conditions that cause pressure on the nerves in the spine.
Stenosis often develops with age, as ligaments of the spine thicken and harden, discs bulge, bones and joints enlarge, and bone spurs form. Spondylolisthesis is the slipping of one vertebra onto another, and it can also lead to compression.
FAQs About Laminectomy
Continue reading below to learn more about laminectomy, or click on one of these links to go directly to the information that interests you.
Conditions We Treat
What conditions can laminectomy treat?
Laminectomy spine surgery is used to relieve symptoms caused by:
- Spinal stenosis
- Persistent pain in one leg or one side of the buttock, known as sciatica
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated disc
- Spondylitis, a progressive form of arthritis
- Spondylolisthesis, a condition where one vertebra has slipped onto another
How is laminectomy performed?
The lamina is a bony structure on each side of each vertebra in the spine that protects the spinal canal. During laminectomy, one of our expert Denver area spine surgeons will make an incision in the back. The muscles surrounding the lamina will be moved to expose the lamina. The lamina is removed, allowing the surgeon to see the affected nerve root.
The facet joints, which are directly over the nerve roots, may then be trimmed to give the nerve roots more room.
A laminectomy can be performed with or without fusing vertebrae or removing part of a disc. Your spine surgeon will determine whether fusion is necessary to assure stability in the spine. In addition, screws or rods may be used to help assure a solid fusion and to support unstable areas of the spine.
Who is a candidate for laminectomy?
The surgeons at Neurosurgery One believe surgery should be considered only when more conservative therapies such as steroid injections and physical therapy fail to provide adequate relief.
Ideal candidates for laminectomy are those who experience:
- Pain, weakness, or numbness in a leg or foot that has persisted for several months or more and does not respond to more conservative treatment
- Pain that radiates to legs
- Pain that is more severe in legs than in the back itself
- Weakness or loss of bladder and bowel control
- Difficulty performing daily activities or physical activity due to pain
- Difficulty standing or walking
In addition, at Neurosurgery One, our spine surgeons believe that surgery should be performed only when patients have a diagnosis of compressed nerves, or spinal stenosis, that is confirmed through imaging such as MRI.
What are the benefits of laminectomy surgery?
Studies show that approximately 8o-90 percent of patients will experience significant improvement in their ability to perform normal daily activities following laminectomy. Approximately the same number experience a significant reduction in pain.
The surgical results of a lumbar laminectomy are particularly effective for the radiating leg pain known as sciatica that is caused by spinal stenosis.
What are the risks of laminectomy surgery?
The risk of complications associated with spine surgery for laminectomy are low but may include:
- Nerve root damage. Approximately 1 in 1,000 patients experience some nerve damage.
- Bowel or bladder incontinence. This side effect is experienced by 1 in 10,000 patients.
- Cerebrospinal fluid leak. This occurs in about 1-3 percent of laminectomy surgery patients. If the membrane around the spinal cord is breached, a cerebrospinal fluid link may occur. Generally, lying down for 24-48 hours allows the leak to seal.
- Infections. About 1 percent of patients will acquire an infection after surgery, which may require further surgery along with IV antibiotics.
What is the recovery process after laminectomy surgery?
Patients typically stay in the hospital overnight following laminectomy surgery. You most likely will be encouraged to walk directly following a laminectomy. However, you’ll be advised to avoid excessive bending, lifting, or twisting for six weeks after this surgery to avoid putting pressure on the incision.
You also may need to wear a brace to stabilize your neck and back, and you may need help with household work.
Full recovery may take up to six weeks, but it will depend on your overall health and fitness before the surgery.