Laminectomy is surgery that creates space by removing the lamina — the back part of the vertebra that covers your spinal canal. Also known as decompression surgery, laminectomy enlarges your spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
This pressure is most commonly caused by bony overgrowths within the spinal canal, which can occur in people who have arthritis in their spines.
Laminectomy is generally used only when more-conservative treatments — such as medication, physical therapy or injections — have failed to relieve symptoms. Laminectomy may also be recommended if symptoms are severe or worsening dramatically.
Why It’s Done
Bony overgrowths within the spinal canal can narrow the space available in your spinal cord and nerves. This pressure can cause pain, weakness or numbness that can radiate down your arms or legs. Laminectomy is usually better at relieving these types of radiating symptoms than it is at relieving actual back pain.
Your doctor may recommend laminectomy if:
- Conservative treatment, such as medication or physical therapy, fails to improve your symptoms
- You have muscle weakness or numbness that makes standing or walking difficult
- You experience loss of bowel or bladder control
In some cases, laminectomy may be necessary as part of surgery to treat a herniated spinal disk. Your surgeon may need to remove part of the lamina to gain access to the damaged disk.
Laminectomy is generally a safe procedure. But as with any surgery, laminectomy carries a risk of complications.
Potential complications include:
- Blood clots
- Nerve injury
- Spinal fluid leak
Most people report measurable improvement in their symptoms after laminectomy, but the benefit may lessen over time as the spine continues to age or if there is a recurrence of arthritis. Laminectomy is more likely to improve leg pain caused by a compressed nerve than back pain. Because laminectomy can’t stop the buildup from osteoarthritis that caused the nerve compression in the first place from happening again, symptoms may come back over time.