A laminectomy is a form of back surgery done to decompress your spine and ease
nerve-related back pain when medication or physiotherapy hasn’t helped.
Here’s what’s involved.
A laminectomy is a type of spinal decompression surgery done to relieve pressure on your nerves. It’s sometimes combined with other spinal surgeries, depending on your needs. Laminectomy recovery may take a few weeks and often involves physiotherapy to help you gain strength and flexibility.
What is a laminectomy?
Why a laminectomy may be performed
Your spine is made of hollow, bony building blocks called vertebrae that stack on top of each other with a cushioning disc between them. The hollow space inside this column is called your spinal canal. It’s a protected space that houses your spinal cord, the long cable of nerves that connect your brain and body, enabling you to control your movements.
Some conditions put pressure on your spinal canal and nerve roots, disrupting the normal layout of your spine and making your spinal canal narrower than it should be. If there’s no longer enough space for your spinal cord and nerves, you may experience pain, weakness or numbness that radiates down your arms or legs.
A laminectomy enlarges your spinal canal to relieve the pressure on your spinal cord or nerves. You may need a laminectomy if your spinal cord or nerve roots are under pressure from an injury, a herniated disc, spinal stenosis or a tumour. It is usually only done when non-surgical treatments have not succeeded or if you’re living with severe symptoms such as incontinence or difficulty walking.
Risks of a laminectomy
Any surgical procedure carries risks, meaning surgery should only be considered if the benefits are likely to outweigh them.
The risks of a laminectomy include:
- Risks linked to the use of general anesthesia
- Blood clots in the legs or lungs
- Dural tear
- Spinal cord or nerve root injury
- Injury to the nerves or blood vessels near the surgical site, causing weakness or numbness
- Other risks depending on your particular condition.
One complication to be aware of is post-laminectomy syndrome (PLS). Also known as ‘failed back surgery syndrome’, this is pain that persists or begins after a laminectomy and can lead to chronic pain. There maybe a number of different reasons and you will require careful reinvestigation to find if there is any other cause of your persistent symptoms.
It’s important to discuss the potential risks of surgery with your surgeon before the operation.
What to expect from your laminectomy
Before your surgery, your surgeon will explain the procedure and ask for your written consent. You’ll need to give details of any regular medication you take and may need to fast in preparation for your anaesthetic.
A laminectomy is performed in an operating theatre while you’re under general anesthesia or spinal anaesthesia.
Laminectomy techniques vary depending on your particular clinical needs. Sometimes it is done with minimally invasive techniques, using only small incisions. Sometimes, it needs to be done as an open procedure with larger incisions depending on your condition and body size and the number of levels involved.
Recovery after laminectomy
A short stay in hospital is common after a laminectomy. You’ll hopefully be up and walking on the day of your operation but will be given medication to manage any pain.
Once you’re back home, your laminectomy recovery may involve:
- Keeping the surgical site clean and dry
- Not driving until you’re given the all clear to do so
- Avoiding arching your back or bending over for a little while
- Beginning physiotherapy to improve your strength and flexibility.
Laminectomy recovery times vary depending on exactly what you’ve had done and how demanding your daily life is. If you have an uncomplicated laminectomy and a fairly sedentary job, then you may be able to return to work within a few weeks. If you’ve had a laminectomy combined with spinal fusion, then your recovery time may be longer.
How the Victorian Orthopaedic Spine Service can help
As a patient of the Victorian Orthopaedic Spine Service, you’ll benefit from Dr Edis’s professionalism and skill.
We start with a careful examination of your spine and a discussion of your symptoms. Before considering a laminectomy, we will usually recommend non-surgical treatments such as medication or physiotherapy.
If your symptoms persist or are already severe, then we can discuss the pros and cons of a laminectomy and, if you’d like to proceed, Dr Edis will perform your surgery.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.