A laminectomy is a surgical procedure typically undertaken when back pain continues after other less invasive medical treatments (such as medication, physical therapy, or weight loss) have failed. It may also be performed when back pain is accompanied by symptoms of nerve damage, such as numbness or weakness in the legs.
A laminectomy might be done to relieve pain and compression of the spinal cord that can be caused by a variety of sources, including injury, herniated disk, tumors, or most commonly, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal). It can also provide access to tumors that are adjacent to the spinal cord, or help to tailor the contour of the spinal column in order to correct certain spinal deformities.
During a laminectomy, a portion of bone in the spinal column called the lamina is removed. The laminas are the bony arches on the back of the vertebrae that cover the spinal column. Removal of the lamina occurs using a variety of surgical tools including drills and lasers. In addition to the lamina bones, disk fragments, bone spurs, or other soft tissues may also be removed.
Depending on the condition being treatment, laminectomy may be performed simultaneously with other common spine procedures, including discectomies and spinal fusions.
Discectomy removes herniated disc material that presses on a nerve root or the spinal cord. Spinal fusion welds together vertebrae (the small bones of the spine) in order to relieve pain.
Following laminectomy, recovery can be dependent on the specific operative technique that is used. Minimally-invasive procedures (technologically-advanced surgeries that use special tools) have significantly shorter recovery periods than traditional, open surgeries (surgeries that require large incisions).
The long-term success rate of laminectomy depends a great deal on the underlying condition that prompts the surgery. When performed for spinal stenosis, laminectomy often provides full or partial relief of symptoms.
On the other hand, when laminectomy is performed simultaneously with other procedures (e.g., spinal fusion), areas above and below the fusion may be more likely to have problems in the future.
Laminectomy is generally considered a safe procedure; however, as with any surgery, laminectomy carries risk of complications. A surgeon from the Florida Spine Institute can help you decide whether a laminectomy is the best course of action to treat your pain.
Laminectomy. Johns Hopkins Medicine (2014). Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/orthopaedic/laminectomy_92,P07681/. Last accessed December 26, 2014.
Laminectomy. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (2012). Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007389.htm. Last accessed December 28, 2014.