What is a laminectomy?

A laminectomy is a surgical procedure to relieve pressure on the nerve roots by removing the lamina, the flattened segments at the back of the vertebral arch. The vertebral arch is the ring of bone that joins the vertebral body to surround the spinal cord.

Why is laminectomy done?

There are two main causes of pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots:

  • Disk herniation occurs when the inner material leaks out of a weakened or damaged intervertebral disk, pressing on and irritating the spinal cord and nerve roots.
  • Stenosis refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal, often due to the degenerative changes that occur with aging. As the canal narrows, it crowds the nerve roots and spinal cord that pass through it.

Pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots can cause pain and numbness or tingling in the arms and legs. Pressure on the nerve roots in the lower (lumbar) back can lead to trouble walking and, rarely, to problems with bowel and bladder function.

When the symptoms become severe or if they are not relieved by conservative treatments, such as medication and exercise, surgery to remove the lamina may be recommended. Other procedures, such as a discectomy (removal of a disk) and fusion of the vertebrae, may be done along with a laminectomy.