Laminectomy: Surgery for Back Pain
What is a laminectomy?
A laminectomy surgery is a common type of spine surgery. During the procedure, a spine surgeon removes a small section of bone (called the lamina) from the lower spine. This is often used in the lower spine (lumbar laminectomy) but may also be needed in the neck (cervical laminectomy) or the middle of the back (thoracic laminectomy).
The lamina (described as “bony arches”) are bone pieces that stick out from back of the spine. Their removal during surgery releases pressure from compressed nerves or the spinal cord which can lead to improved quality of life and function.
Why is a laminectomy performed?
The natural process of aging of the bones of the spine starts around age 30 and in many individuals will lead to pain or nerve-related symptoms. When these symptoms interfere with function and quality of life, surgery is often the best option. Sometimes a laminectomy is performed as part of a larger surgery for other reasons.
Can a laminectomy treat spinal stenosis?
Yes, your spine surgeon may consider laminectomy surgery to treat spinal stenosis. Stenosis is a gradual narrowing of the spinal canal (the tunnel created by the bones in your spine where the spinal cord passes through). The narrowing space crowds nerve roots and the spinal cord, which may cause severe pain or make it difficult to move in certain ways. Spinal stenosis often happens as your body ages, when tissues in the spine slowly wear down over time.
Lumbar spinal stenosis may cause:
- Pain when you walk or bend over.
- Numbness or tingling near your legs, groin or lower back.
- Bladder or bowel problems (which is less common but can be serious).
Can a laminectomy treat a herniated disk?
Yes, spine surgeons commonly perform a special type of laminectomy to treat a herniated disk.
Intervertebral disks are soft, flexible cushions between the back bones (vertebrae) that are the shock-absorbers for the spine. A herniated disk happens when the soft inner portion of the disk is pushed outside the fibrous external covering. The extruded disc material can then push against a spinal nerve or the spinal cord leading to a serious problem. A herniated disk can be very painful.
Who else may need a laminectomy?
Your spine surgeon may consider laminectomy surgery to treat certain degenerative back conditions.
How is a laminectomy performed?
For lumbar laminectomy surgery, you will lie face down on a special device that carefully pads the front of your body. You’ll be put under general anesthesia, so you’ll sleep during the procedure. Your spine surgeon then:
- Makes an incision in your lower back.
- Separates the muscles to access the spine.
- Removes part or all of the lamina (bone) to release tension on nerves or the spinal cord.
How long is laminectomy surgery?
The surgery usually takes around two hours but can take longer if it is part of a more complex procedure or if many levels need to be addressed.
Is laminectomy surgery the same as a diskectomy?
Laminectomy (removal of lamina bone) and diskectomy (removing damaged disk tissue) are both types of spinal decompression surgery. Your provider may perform a diskectomy or other techniques (such as joining two vertebrae, called spinal fusion) during a laminectomy procedure.
Risks / Benefits
What are the potential risks or complications of laminectomy?
Possible complications of laminectomy include:
Recovery and Outlook
What can I expect after laminectomy surgery?
You may go home the same day of surgery or stay in the hospital for one-two days (if part of a larger procedure, hospital stay may be longer). Surgeons can perform laminectomy using large incisions (open surgery) or small incisions with specialized tools (minimally invasive spine surgery). If your provider uses less-invasive techniques to perform laminectomy, you may go home sooner or have less pain after surgery.
Before you go home, your provider will give you medication to help manage any discomfort you feel. Your provider also explain when and how you should get out of bed and start moving after surgery. You will likely meet with a physical therapist, who will teach you how to move around safely as your body heals.
How long does it take to heal from laminectomy surgery?
Everyone recovers at a different pace. Rest and take it slow in the beginning. You should avoid bending or twisting motions right after surgery. Gradually do more each day, as your body allows.
Be sure to follow the instructions your provider gives you. Physical therapy (exercises and stretches that strengthen your muscles) may help you move more easily, with less pain.
How effective is laminectomy?
Most patients (70% to 80%) experience significant back pain relief and symptom improvement after laminectomy surgery. Surgery does not correct the underlying problem that’s causing spinal tissues to wear down gradually. For that reason, your symptoms may come back.
Some people continue to experience pain and worsening symptoms after laminectomy surgery.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call the doctor?
Reach out to your healthcare provider about any symptoms that concern you after surgery. Pay particular attention to possible signs of infection or more serious complications.
Always call your provider if you have:
- Redness, swelling or foul odor near the incision site.
- Leg swelling or tenderness.
- Worsening pain near the incision site, shoulder or belly.
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing.
- Bowel or bladder control problems.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A compressed nerve in the spine is a common problem as people get older. It may cause severe symptoms, such as lower back pain, that affects your mood or keeps you from enjoying life. Often, medication and physical therapy can relieve minor symptoms. When other therapies don’t help, surgery may be an option. Laminectomy surgery is one of many types of spine surgery that may relieve chronic back pain. Ask your provider which treatment options are best for your situation.