Spinal stenosis is one of the syndromes that compresses your spinal cord and nerves, causing significant low back pain and potentially interfering with your daily activities. Sometimes a laminectomy is the best option for relieving the low back pain caused by this compression, particularly if other medical treatments have not worked.

Laminectomy Surgery: Decompression of Spinal Stenosis

A laminectomy—or spinal decompression surgery—is performed with a goal of alleviating or eliminating low back pain. During a laminectomy a surgeon removes one or more vertebrae from the lamina, a flat bony roof that covers and protects the posterior spinal canal. The surgery decompresses the canal, releasing nerve pressure caused by conditions like injury, herniated disk, spinal stenosis, or tumors. A laminectomy may also be performed to address other issues, like nerve damage, which can cause numbness and weakness, or bladder/bowel pressure from pressure in the spine.

Preparing for Your Laminectomy

Preparation for a laminectomy is much like that for other surgeries:

  • Your doctor will explain the surgery and will answer all your questions about the surgery.
  • You will sign a form consenting to the surgery. Be sure to read it carefully and ask questions if any part of the form is unclear.
  • You will provide your health and medication history, and may be asked to take blood tests or other diagnostic tests.
  • You should strictly follow any directions regarding not eating or drinking before the surgery.
  • Make sure you have someone to help you out with household activities and driving for a few days after the surgery.

How Is a Laminectomy Performed?

Depending on your circumstances, a laminectomy is performed when you are awake (under local spinal anesthesia) or asleep (under general anesthesia). During the procedure, a urinary catheter may be inserted and you will be positioned either on your side or your stomach for the surgery. The surgeon will make an incision and remove the bony arch over affected vertebrae, in addition to any bone spurs. One of your disks may also be removed. Afterward, the incision is carefully closed with sutures or staples and sterile bandaging will be applied.

What Are the Risks with Laminectomy?

The risks associated with a laminectomy are similar to those of other surgeries. Complications—like bleeding, nervous system injury, infection, blood clots, or anesthesia reaction—are possible complications. Depending on your health history and condition, you could have additional risks and should discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the laminectomy surgery.

What Happens after a Laminectomy?

In the Hospital

After the surgery, you will go to the recovery room for observation. Your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be monitored and once you are alert, you will be transferred to a hospital room. Laminectomy usually requires an overnight hospital stay.

You probably will start walking the evening of your surgery; your care team will monitor your pain levels and make sure you are comfortable.

At Home

You will receive a customized exercise plan to follow after discharge. Once you are home, you must follow this plan and your other post-op instructions. Keeping your surgical incision area clean and dry is critical; be sure to follow your specific bathing instructions. Your surgical staples or stitches will be removed during a follow-up office visit.

During your recovery, you can take pain relievers only as recommended by your doctor. Aspirin and other pain medicines may increase your chance of bleeding.

Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following: fever, redness, bleeding or drainage at the incision site; increased pain or inflammation at the incision site; numbness in your torso or lower extremities; or trouble with urinating or bowel movements.

You may not drive, bend over, or arch your back until your doctor approves it. Your care team may provide you with other instructions after the procedure, depending on your circumstances.