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A laminectomy is a surgery to remove a small portion of a vertebra (back bone). The part removed is called the lamina.
A laminectomy is usually done to help take pressure off your spinal cord or a nerve running out from your spinal cord. It is also done to gain access to the spinal cord, bones, and discs that are below the lamina. Ruptured discs, bony spurs, or other problems can cause narrowing of the canals that the nerves and spinal cord run through. This can irritate the nerve if it gets too narrow. Often, a laminectomy is done along with a disk removal to help make the canal larger and take pressure off the nerve being irritated.
When the spinal cord or other nerves get irritated, they can cause:
Physical therapy and medicine will be tried first. The surgery is done when other treatments have not worked. It is most often done to treat symptoms that keep getting worse.
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a laminectomy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before surgery.
Your doctor may do the following:
In the time leading up to your surgery:
Possible types of anesthesia for this operation include:
If the surgery is done with minimally invasive techniques, you will only need a few small incisions. The doctor will insert a scope and small instruments into these incisions. The lamina will then be removed using a drill or other tools. Once the lamina is removed, the doctor can inspect the spinal cord and discs that were hidden under the lamina.
In some cases, the doctor will do an open surgery. This involves making a larger cut in the skin over the area in the back that needs attention.
The disc often needs to be removed as well to take pressure off the spinal cord. If it is not a disc problem, the doctor will try to fix the other problems causing the nerve irritation. In rare cases, the doctor may do a spinal fusion. A spinal fusion will involve joining two vertebrae. Lastly, the incision will be closed with stitches or staples.
You will have pain during recovery. Your doctor will give you pain medicine.
This surgery is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is 1-3 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if there are complications.
While you are recovering at the hospital, you may receive the following care:
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
College of Family Physicians of Canada
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Laminectomy or laminotomy. North American Spine Society website. Available at:
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Lindström D, Azodi O, et al. Effects of a Perioperative Smoking Cessation Intervention on Postoperative Complications: A Randomized Trial. Ann Surg. 2008 Nov;248(5):739-745.
Pain: hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.n.... Updated May 2008. Accessed June 13, 2008.
Last reviewed [Under Medical Review] by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 9/27/2011