Laminectomy surgery

What is a Spinal Laminectomy?

There are a number of different surgical procedures that can be undertaken following a spinal cord injury. Of course, these are delicate operations and require a high degree of expertise. Even the most basic types of surgical procedure have a certain amount of risk associated with them.

A typical operation involving the spine is fusing two vertebrae together, often in the lumbar area. Another minor procedure involves making a small incision in the back and is called a microdiscectomy, an operation which is used to treat sciatica from a herniated disc.

Spinal surgery procedures that help improve longstanding conditions include the laminectomy.

Here we take a closer look at what this involves, why it is often used with spinal injuries and degenerative conditions and what risks are associated with the procedure.

What is a Laminectomy?

Laminectomy surgery is a widely used surgical procedure that is used to relieve compression on the spinal cord.

The spinal cord is surrounded by a bony structure called the vertebral arch. Part of this structure is called the lamina and a laminectomy involves removing part of this to create more space. The amount which is removed will depend on what the surgeon is trying to achieve in relation to the patient’s diagnosis.

This is a widely used procedure that is performed to create more space and relieve compression on the spinal cord. Essentially the spinal canal is made wider. It is, for this reason, also known as decompression surgery. In addition, the surgery may involve removing bone spurs or growths that may have started to impinge on the spinal cord.

Why Might a Laminectomy be Performed?

This is not an operation that is usually performed immediately after someone has been diagnosed with a spinal issue. It’s normally considered as a last resort, as surgery close to the spinal cord can be risky. If the operation goes wrong, the surgeon can literally end up doing more damage than good.

A laminectomy is normally resorted to when other conservative measures such as pain relief and physiotherapy have failed to work. The condition it most applies to is spinal stenosis – where the spinal canal has narrowed for one reason or another. This can happen if:

  • The spinal discs have shrunk due to age or wear and tear.
  • The individual has a condition such as arthritis.
  • There’s a congenital defect that was present at birth.
  • There’s a tumor or traumatic injury.
  • There is damage from a herniated or slipped disc.

Risks Associated with a Laminectomy

X-ray image following a laminectomy
X-ray following a laminectomy

As with any spinal procedure, laminectomy surgery comes with risks and these need to be considered prior to the operation taking place. Of course, there are risks inherent in any surgical procedure, even minor ones.

Where the spine is concerned, these include the following:

  • The potential for nerve damage can cause additional health problems
  • Risk of blood clots and bleeding
  • Spinal fluid leak is also another potential problem.

Finally, as with other surgical procedures, there is an increased risk of infection that can quickly complicate matters. A surgeon will take all these factors into account when deciding whether to carry out a laminectomy or not.

Things to Know Before, During and After a Laminectomy

Before considering a laminectomy it is important to know all the options. Most surgeons will not perform an operation such as this until all other methods have been exhausted.

An individual will also need to consider whether the pain or discomfort they experience is such that they are willing to risk spinal surgery in the first place

  • A laminectomy is performed whilst the individual is under anesthetic and the operation can take up to four hours.
  • The operation involves making a small incision in the back of the patient
  • The surgeon will then remove part of the lamina as well as bone fragments and bone spurs.

Once the patient has had the operation, post-surgery care is important. This includes not doing any heavy lifting or putting undue pressure on the area affected. The health care team will suggest that the patient gradually increases activity such as walking.

It can be difficult sleeping after a laminectomy and the individual has to be careful when taking a shower. Recovery can be relatively quick and the recovering patient should expect reduction in pain over time.

The majority of people will see some measurable improvement in their back pain following back surgery such as this. However, this is not always the case. It will depend on the cause of the condition and its long-term prognosis. For example, those with spinal arthritis may find their condition worsening over time because this is a progressive condition.