What is a Laminectomy?

Patients may require hospitalization for one to three days following a laminectomy.
A laminectomy is a procedure that reduces pressure on the spinal cord.
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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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A laminectomy is a surgical procedure to decrease pain for sufferers of lumbar spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a complaint that generally afflicts older people. The pain is caused by degenerative changes that result in the facet joints becoming enlarged and placing pressure on nerves. The best way to treat this ailment is with a lumbar laminectomy.

Lumbar laminectomy means open decompression. Laminectomy surgery removes a small part of the bone, called the lamina, just over the nerve root. It can also remove disc material from underneath the nerve root in order to give the root a better healing environment or more space.

The surgical procedure starts with an incision approximately two to five inches long (about 5-13 cm) made in the midline of the back. The left and right back muscles are then dissected off the lamina on both sides and at various levels. A laminectomy, or removal of the lamina, is then performed. This allows the nerve roots to be exposed. The final procedure in the laminectomy surgery consists of undercutting the facet joints. The facet joints are directly over the nerve roots, so trimming them gives the roots more room.

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Following the operation, patients usually remain in the hospital for one to three days. How fast the patient recovers mobility is usually dependent on how old the patient is and his or her general health condition before the operation. Patients are encouraged to be mobile directly after the surgery, but are advised to refrain from any heavy lifting or exercise for at least six weeks. This is to avoid any pulling on the suture line before it heals properly.

Another treatment that can enhance the results of the decompression of spinal stenosis is to fuse the joint. Fusing the joint prevents stenosis from recurring and can eliminate pain from an unstable segment. If stenosis occurs at one level from an unstable joint, then decompression surgery combined with fusion is a more reliable option.

Laminectomy surgery has a very high success rate. Approximately 80% of patients feel improvement in their daily lives. Most also notice a significant reduction in their level of discomfort and pain. The success of a laminectomy is much higher if the sufferer feels more pain in their legs. It is not as successful for the treatment of lower back pain.

As with all surgery, a laminectomy has potential risks and complications. There is a 1 in 1000 chance of nerve root damage or bladder/bowel incontinence. Infections happen in about 1% of elective cases. If infection occurs, further surgery combined with antibiotics is necessary to rectify the situation. Although complications are very rare, laminectomy surgery is usually performed on elderly patients who are at an increased risk.

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anon295890
Post 14

My dad is 80 years old and seems to be forgetful and aging in his mind, more than his body. He began having pain in his "buttocks," mostly with longer periods of sitting/standing. He walks a mile every morning, does free weights for upper body, and sit ups every morning. However, he had major heart surgery six years ago and takes the blood thinner coumadin.

Initially, he took Naproxin three times day and got great relief. Then he was told he couldn't take it while on coumadin. So now he is in pain and thinks there is no solution other than surgical laminetomy. He still does his morning excerise routine and doesn't take narotics.

I would like some input from anyone this resonates with. He is old fashioned, doesn't heat or ice, or stretch as I have suggested. Shouldn't the doctor share some alternatives, seeing that he is 80 and surgery seems extreme with no other treatments attempted.

anon273160
Post 13

I had a laminectomy in march of 2012. I was pain free when I left the hospital four hours after surgery. That afternoon, the pain started easing back and now I have popping in the area of my surgery. Sometimes it feels good when it pops and sometimes it makes the constant pain, numbness and weakness worse. The muscle spasms and cramps are much worse now and I don't have any other medications to try. Soma made the spasm worse. I am at a loss as to what to do next and what the popping is.

anon264470
Post 12

I had four laminectomies in my lumbar region at the same time about 15 years ago. I am now 48. Now I have what’s called adhesive arachnoiditis. I suggest everyone look this up and do some serious thinking and research before going through with any laminectomy surgery. My neurosurgeon never mentioned that I might end up with adhesive arachnoiditis.

Now at 48, I am totally disabled and on disability (from my previous laminectomy surgery). I had a full time job with a tribal police department Now I can’t even sit, stand, walk or bend over without hurting. I am now on morphine around the clock, muscle relaxers, and neurontin every six hours. It all really stinks!

I really wish everyone to be pain free, but for me it’s not looking very good unless science can come up with something in the future to help the people all over the world who have adhesive arachnoiditis. I hope and pray that they do! Take care.

anon262591
Post 11

I am 46 and soon to have a laminectomy of L3, L4,L5 and S1 done. I have numbness, tingling and pain down both my legs and left foot. This has been going on for several years. I am looking forward to becoming pain free.

anon169155
Post 10

I am 45 but this is my third back surgery. I have had a fusion with screws and plates,a dislocation which had to be done through the stomach and just had a recent surgery for a laminectomy. I have had all of the symptoms each one of you have described and I can totally relate. I am hoping that this will be the last surgery for me. My advice to those who want the procedure do what is right for you, get second opinions, and pray.

anon163997
Post 9

I am only 32 years old and i also have severe lumber spondylolisthesis and lumbar spinal stenosis with herniated disk L4 L5 S1. I have been in so much pain for about three months starting from my low back down to my right foot, after the procedure and additional spacer called complex, i am now pain free and it's been four weeks post op. and i hope and pray that this will continue, the only thing i afraid off is 60 percent of my foot is still numb. i hope and pray for everybody to be totally healed.

anon160222
Post 8

I had a discectomy and laminectomy just over 18 months ago when I was 27.

For six weeks after surgery it was all good. Then it started going downhill again. Now I have two prolapsed discs and severe spinal stenosis and am looking at more surgery. I have constant pressurised pain down my left leg, pins and needles, shooting pains etc.

If I sit/stand or walk for more than five minutes, I am in excruciating pain and have to lie down. I still can't lie on my back at all. I have also noticed that I can't flex my left foot towards my knee, and often have a 'dead' leg. If anyone else out there has had this surgery and it didn't work for them either I would be happy to hear from you.

anon157666
Post 7

I am considering a laminectomy for spinal stenosis and two herniated disc. I am a very active 46 year old. The pain is off and on, some days very bad, others just bothersome.

Numb legs are problem and the occasional leg that gives out or doesn't move. I need to know if I can live with this longer because of risks, or get it done so I can move like a 46 year old not like I'm 96.

anon148951
Post 6

I had this surgery done and unfortunately was part of the 1 percent who had an infection after and had to have another surgery 5 days later. Also i wanted to know if anyone had popping of the vertebrae after having this surgery?

anon118060
Post 5

This is the best thing I did for myself. It's been four years and I feel great.

anon110190
Post 4

I had a laminectomy done after I could no longer walk without pain and pins and needles in both my legs. That was done in January 1984, and since that time my back has become stronger and stronger.

I am now 66 years of age and don't suffer any back pain at all. sometimes I am reminded when I lift a heavy pot plant; it usually lets me know the next day. So no need to suffer lower back pain. have that laminectomy and enjoy a normal life. Ern R. (Australia)

anon84216
Post 3

I am only 30 years old and i have severe lumber spondylolisthesis and lumbar spinal stenosis. I have been in dire pain for about five years now and just like the person above the pain is unbearable and i basically can't feel my feet and my shins are on fire 24/7.

As for the rest of my legs, well, have you ever had an alien eat your muscles and bones? I hope that this laminectomy and fusion work to reduce my pain. So far I've not heard of this surgery in someone my age, usually it's someone much older.

anon80698
Post 2

I'm about to have a laminectomy to "free" up the nerves in the area of L4 and L5, also having screws and plates to stabilize that area. Have been dealing with this for the past 12 years and it is time. My legs "go to sleep" after about five minutes of standing/walking. The pain is tolerable with pain management. Hoping this will improve my quality of life.

anon19884
Post 1

I think this is a great article. i had this procedure recently and i'm having pain in my legs and some problems with them, from this article it sounds like a good thing. Thanks much for the info.

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