What is Lumbar Laminectomy?

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Woman’s legs

A lumbar laminectomy is a surgical procedure that is also known as an open decompression. The procedure is designed to relieve the pressure that is on the spinal nerve or spinal cord by opening or widening the spinal canal. During the procedure, the lamina which is a small section of the bone on the spine is removed so that there is more room for the nerves. An open decompression, or lumbar laminectomy is typically suggested by a physician for those patients who suffer from back pain caused by neural impingement. The surgical procedure relieves the pressure by enlarging the spinal canal.

What is involved in the procedure?

A spinal surgeon will usually make a small incision that is about 2 to 5 inches in length. The incision will be made down the midline of the back and will dissect muscle tissue so that the lamina is exposed and removed. In many cases, the facet joints which are located directly over the roots of spinal nerves may need to be trimmed in order to allow more room. Most of the time patients are only in the hospital a couple of days. The actual procedure will usually take from 1 to 3 hours to complete. The patient’s physical condition will play a role in how long it will take before they can return to their normal activities. Most physicians will encourage patients to begin walking right after the lumbar laminectomy is completed to ensure successful results. In order to allow the sutures to heal properly, most physicians will require that patients refrain from bending, twisting or lifting for about 6 weeks following the surgical procedure.

What kind of risk is associated with the procedure?

Any time a patient undergoes a surgical procedure, no matter how minor it is, there will be risks associated with it. The lumbar laminectomy is a safe procedure and there are typically very few patients who complain about negative side effects. However, any surgical procedure carries with it the risk of developing complications such as blood clots, infection or bleeding. Because of the specific location in which the laminectomy is performed, there is an extremely small chance that a nerve could sustain damage or that spinal fluid could leak.

Who is a candidate for a lumbar laminectomy?

A lumbar laminectomy is typically performed in order to alleviate the symptoms associated with spinal stenosis which is a medical condition where spinal nerves become compressed inside the canal of the spine. Repeated stress or strain as well as aging can weaken the spinal discs and when the disc’s outer rim bulges outward it can rupture or protrude into the spinal canal. When this occurs, the spinal canal becomes narrower and this squeezes the nerves that are located inside. Patients who have bone spurs on the spine due to degeneration may find a laminectomy offers them the relief they need. A bone spur most usually occurs on the edges of vertebrae or around a facet joint. Bone spurs can put pressure on the spinal nerves if the spur is pointed in the direction of the spinal canal.  A spinal surgeon will perform a laminectomy to remove the lamina bone and the spurs. The end result is that the pressure that was on the spinal nerves is relieved since there is more room in the spinal canal.

What kind of results can be expected?

Most of the time patients who undergo a lumbar laminectomy report satisfactory results. In most cases, the surgery will relieve back pain or leg pain that was caused by the compressed nerves in the back. Since the laminectomy only relieves the pressure and not necessarily the condition that caused the condition to start with, it is possible that the symptoms will return eventually. This is especially true in cases which the compression was caused by arthritis or aging.

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