Spine Surgery

May 16, 2022

How a Laminectomy Can Help Relieve Spine & Neck Pain

Spine model sitting on a table

Chronic spine or neck pain is often caused by spinal cord compression or a pinched nerve. When the compression is due to a narrowing of the spinal column or bone spurs on the vertebrae, a laminectomy can help. By removing the pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, a laminectomy allows the area to heal and the inflammation to subside, resulting in pain relief.

What is a Laminectomy?

During laminectomy surgery, the back section of specific vertebrae is removed. This section, called the lamina, is designed to help protect the spinal cord. However, it sometimes overgrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord or nerves running from the spinal cord to other areas of the body. Removing the lamina enlarges the spinal canal, relieving pressure and alleviating the associated pain.

A laminectomy relieves pressure on the affected nerves and spinal cord, reducing inflammation and giving the nerves time to heal, which resolves neck and back pain. In many situations, the laminectomy also delays or stops bone spurs from impinging on the spinal cord and nerves in the future. Your surgeon may also trim away any bone growth on other areas of the vertebrae and trim spinal ligaments to create more room for the spinal cord during the laminectomy.

Who Needs a Laminectomy?

Although osteoarthritis is the most common cause of neck and back pain caused by compression of the spinal cord or nerves, some other diseases and conditions may require a laminectomy. These include achondroplasia, ankylosing spondylitis, spinal tumors, sciatica, traumatic injury, and spinal stenosis. A laminectomy is also sometimes needed as part of surgery for the removal of a herniated disc.

If a patient has already tried to control the pain with medications, physical therapy, and steroid injections, a surgeon may recommend a laminectomy.

Typical criteria that indicate a laminectomy may be right for you include:

  • Back or neck pain caused by pressure on the nerves that hasn’t responded to conservative treatments
  • Numbness or weakness in your legs that impairs your ability to walk or stand
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Numbness or tingling in one or more extremities
  • Increasingly severe symptoms

Types of Laminectomies

A laminectomy is sometimes referred to as decompression surgery. It relieves any compression on the involved nerves and spinal cord. The specific procedure name depends on the location of the lamina being removed: a lumbar laminectomy is performed if the affected vertebrae are in the lower back, while a cervical laminectomy is done for neck pain or nerve impingement that affects the extremities.

Instrumentation is sometimes needed after a lumbar laminectomy to stabilize the spine. Screws or rods are inserted into the area to add stability, and bone grafts are used to fuse the area. An uninstrumented fusion may also be done, using bone grafts to stabilize the area without implanting hardware.

What to Expect from a Laminectomy

Any surgery on the spine is serious, but recent advancements in how the procedure is done have reduced recovery times dramatically. Laminectomies typically take between one and three hours, but the time can vary depending on the severity of the bone spurs and whether a herniated disc is involved.

During a laminectomy surgery, an incision is made in either the back or the side to access the spine. The muscles are moved out of the way, and the damaged lamina is removed. If there are herniated discs, they are removed, and the surrounding area is cleansed of any loose fragments. If stabilization is needed, bone grafts and sometimes hardware may be put in place.

Success Rates for Laminectomy

The success rate is high for laminectomies. About 90% of patients who undergo laminectomies report relief from back pain and pain in their extremities following surgery. The success rate is even higher when laminectomy is combined with spinal fusion. For up to 75% of patients, the relief lasts for as long as a decade.

Patients who have a laminectomy without hardware or spinal fusion recover relatively quickly. The may return home within a day or two of surgery and be back to work within a few weeks, and in some cases, within a few days. Patients with a spinal fusion or hardware will need two to three months to fully recover. In either case, your surgeon will advise you to avoid heavy lifting or bending for the first few months.

Post-operative pain for the first few weeks is normal but can be minimized with medication and rest. If your laminectomy is successful, you will experience significant pain reduction or total relief of pain in your back and extremities after about six weeks. How long the relief lasts will depend on several factors, including how quickly your arthritis returns and/or whether other problems develop.

Is a Laminectomy Right for You?

The spine surgeons at Arkansas Surgical Hospital are experienced in performing laminectomies, as well as many other procedures designed to address neck and back pain. If you are living with chronic back or neck pain, contact us here or call (501) 758-8075 for help scheduling a consultation with one of our specialists.

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

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