What is a laminectomy surgery?

Laminectomy Surgery Procedure

How long does it take to recover from a laminectomy?

What is the success rate of a laminectomy?

Laminectomy Surgery Procedure

Laminectomy is surgery that creates space by removing the lamina  the back part of a 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. These overgrowths are sometimes referred to as bone spurs, but they’re a normal side effect of the aging process in some people.

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.

 This can cause:

  • mild to severe back pain
  • numbness or weakness in the legs
  • difficulty walking
  • difficulty controlling bladder or bowel movements

A laminectomy is only used if your symptoms interfere with daily life. It’s performed when less invasive treatments have failed.

This surgery is also called:

  • lumbar laminectomy
  • cervical laminectomy
  • decompressive laminectomy

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Why Is a Laminectomy Performed?

A laminectomy is often done to relieve the effects of spinal stenosis. In this condition, your spinal column narrows and puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. Spinal stenosis may be caused by:

  • shrinking of the discs of the spine and swelling of the bones and ligaments, which both occur with aging
  • arthritis of the spine, which is more common in older adults
  • a congenital defect, or defect present at birth, such as abnormal growth of the spine
  • Paget’s disease of the bones, which is a condition in which bones grow improperly
  • achondroplasia, which is a type of dwarfism
  • a tumor in the spine
  • a traumatic injury
  • a herniated or slipped disc

Before Laminectomy

Before your laminectomy, you should receive detailed instructions on how to prepare from your surgeon’s staff during one of your office visits. Here’s what you should do and plan for before the surgery:

  • Don’t eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your laminectomy.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Don’t wear jewelry, especially necklaces or bracelets.
  • Bring your insurance information and your pocketbook for any co-payments or required paperwork.
  • If your doctor thinks you might be able to go home the same day, bring someone to drive you home and help take care of you.
  • Plan for being slow for a while. Stock up on groceries and take care of all the errands and housekeeping you can.
  • Let friends and family know you’ll be having surgery; you’ll be able to use extra help during your recovery.

On the day of your laminectomy:

  • You’ll be provided a private area to change into a loose-fitting medical gown.
  • You’ll wait in a “pre-op” area on a stretcher or bed. Your surgeon, your anesthesiologist, or the anesthesiologist’s assistant will visit you and examine you.
  • When everyone is ready, you’ll be transported to the operating room.

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Laminectomy risks

Laminectomy is generally a safe procedure. But as with any surgery, complications may occur. Potential complications include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Nerve injury
  • Spinal fluid leak

During Laminectomy

Most laminectomies are performed with general anesthesia and mechanical ventilation. Here’s what will happen:

  • The anesthesiologist or an assistant will place a mask over your face, delivering a mix of oxygen and anesthetic gas. You may also be given medicines through your veins to help you relax. Within a few breaths, you’ll be unconscious. This is general anesthesia.
  • The anesthesiology professional will then insert a plastic tube through your mouth and vocal cords, into your windpipe, or trachea. This is called intubation.
  • During the surgery, a ventilator, or breathing machine, will pump air in and out of your lungs. Your vital signs will be continuously monitored throughout the operation.
  • You’ll be rolled over into the face-down position to provide access to your back.

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After laminectomy

After surgery, you’re moved to a recovery room where the health care team watches for complications from the surgery and anesthesia. You may also be asked to move your arms and legs. Your doctor may prescribe medication to relieve pain at the incision site.

You might go home the same day as the surgery, although some people may need a short hospital stay. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy after a laminectomy to improve your strength and flexibility.

Depending on the amount of lifting, walking and sitting your job involves, you may be able to return to work within a few weeks. If you also have spinal fusion, your recovery time will be longer.

Activity in General:

  • If sitting, use only a straight back chair to ensure proper support not to exceed a half hour at a time. You may increase your sitting time slowly.
  • Lie only on a firm mattress, no couches or recliner chairs.
  • You may lie on your back or side, but not on your abdomen.
  • Absolutely no bending, stooping, pushing, lifting or straining.
  • We encourage 2-3 naps daily, you will be tired post-operatively.
  • Avoid housework, especially vacuuming and sweeping.
  • OK to cook, as long as you are not lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds.
  • Learn proper body mechanics to maintain a neutral spine position.
  • Increasing pain is a red flag telling you to rest.
  • DO NOT: Engage in strenuous activity for at least 10 weeks after surgery.

1st Week Post-Operative:

  • May ride in a vehicle as a passenger, but no driving and no extended road trips. Keep the time in the car less than 20 minutes.
  • Walk around in your home on a smooth, flat surface. Try to be ambulating half of the day.
  • You may stair climb with assistance.
  • Do not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds.
  • Take pain medication as directed, don’t try to “tough it out.” You will heal quicker if you feel better.

2nd Week Post-Operative:

  • Make sure to make your first post-op visit.
  • An exercise program will be discussed at your first visit.
  • OK to drive less than 20 minutes at a time if tolerated as a passenger.
  • Increase your walking to 1 mile per day if tolerated well.
  • Light housework but still no vacuuming or sweeping.
  • Refrain from sexual activity.

3rd Week Post-Operative:

  • You may resume sexual activity if relatively pain free.
  • Increase walking time and distance as tolerated.
  • Increase light housework as tolerated.
  • If you need to lift anything, do not exceed 25 pounds and use proper body mechanics.
  • OK to use a hot tub or spa if you are “scab free.”

4th Week Post-Operative:

  • Gradually increase walking to 1-2 miles daily or as tolerated.
  • Increase driving time and housework as tolerated.
  • Return to work will be discussed with doctor and will be patient specific.

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Is a laminectomy a major surgery?

Laminectomy is a common but major surgery with significant risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options available. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having a laminectomy.

How long does it take to recover from a laminectomy?

It depends on the extent of your surgery and your situation. After a minor (decompressive) laminectomy, you can usually able do desk work and light housekeeping within a few days to a few weeks. If you also had spinal fusion, your recovery time will likely be longer, 2-4 months. You may not be able to lift and bend for 2-3 months. Start light walking for exercise and physical therapy exercises as soon as your doctor says you’re ready. This will help speed your recovery. You may not know if your back pain is better until 6 weeks or more after the surgery.

What is the success rate of a laminectomy?

Laminectomy is generally a safe procedure. But as with any surgery, complications may occur.  Laminectomy has about an 80 percent success rate at improving walking abilities.

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