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Laminectomy is a type of open-back surgery to remove painful, overgrown parts of the vertebrae. Occasionally, certain parts of the vertebrae – the lamina – exert pressure on the spinal cord, causing shooting pain that can radiate from the back throughout the entire body. This may be due to bone spurs growing on the lamina, weakened spinal discs between the vertebrae, or the result of a genetic condition.

For back pain issues, patients should be sure to discuss both surgical and non-surgical options with their doctors.

How a Laminectomy Works

Laminectomy is an open-back procedure, meaning that a general anesthetic will be used to put the patient to sleep while the surgery is being completed. It proceeds as follows:

  1. The patient lies face down on the operating table. The doctor administers the general anesthesia to put the patient to sleep.
  2. The surgeon makes an incision down the middle of the patient’s back. Skin, muscles and ligaments are gently moved to the side to get to the spine. Small incisions may be made to get to the spinal column.
  3. The surgeon removes the lamina bones protruding into the spinal canal. The surgeon will also remove any other elements that may be pressing against the spinal cord, including the bone spurs, spinal disc fragments and other tissue.
  4. The surgeon may also make an incision to widen the spinal canal at the base of the head.
  5. A spinal fusion may be performed to ensure spinal column stability. This consists of permanently connecting two or more vertebrae together with bone grafts or metal rods.
  6. The surgeon will put everything back into place and stitch up the patient’s back. The patient may stay in the hospital for up to three days following the procedure, depending on potential complications.

A laminectomy procedure takes 1-3 hours, plus recovery time. Depending on the extent of the surgery, it could take as little time as a week to fully recover, or it could take months until the patient is able to resume a normal, active life.

Conditions Treated by Laminectomy

A laminectomy is primarily used to treat extensive cases of spinal stenosis, though it may also be used to treat the following conditions:

  • Bone spurs
  • Herniated discs
  • Bulging discs
  • Spinal tumors
  • Spinal deformities such as severe scoliosis or kyphosis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Thickened spinal ligaments

These conditions can cause symptoms such as intense pain, coordination problems, numbness, weakness, bowel or urinary incontinence, and problems walking or standing. All of these stem from conditions in which the bones or joints place pressure directly on the spinal cord.

Consult Your Doctor

Because a laminectomy is an invasive surgical procedure, patients should consult with a physician prior to making a decision. A doctor will be able to offer other alternatives such as lifestyle changes and pain medication. He or she may also suggest a less invasive option such as a laminotomy, or decide that a laminectomy is the proper treatment.