What is a laminectomy?

Laminectomy is the surgical removal of a bony area of the spine called the lamina. The lamina is the back part of each vertebra of your spine and forms the back wall of your spinal canal. Your spinal cord runs through your spinal canal in the center of your vertebrae. Certain conditions of the spine can compress the spinal cord and cause pain. A laminectomy can relieve pressure in your spinal canal and on spinal nerves by opening up your spinal canal. 

The word laminectomy is often used interchangeably with laminotomy. However, laminectomy is the removal of most of the lamina, while laminotomy is the removal of part of the lamina.

Laminectomy is an alternative to laminoplasty. Laminoplasty hinges the lamina like a door to create more space in your spinal canal without removing the lamina. However, because a laminectomy removes more bone, it may increase the need for spinal fusion, which can limit the movement of your spine.

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.

Types of laminectomy

When laminectomy involves one vertebra, it is called single level. When it involves more than one vertebra, it is called multilevel.

The types of laminectomy procedures include:

  • Cervical laminectomy is the removal of lamina in the neck area (cervical spine).
  • Lumbar laminectomy is the removal of lamina in the lower back (lumbar spine).
  • Sacral laminectomy is the removal of lamina in the back between your pelvic, or hip bones (sacral spine).
  • Thoracic laminectomy is the removal of lamina in the middle part of the back (thoracic spine).

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform one or more other procedures in addition to a laminectomy:

  • Discectomy is the surgical removal of part or all of a spinal disc. A discectomy treats degenerated, herniated or ruptured spinal discs.
  • Foraminotomy is the widening of the opening where the nerve roots leave the spinal canal. Your doctor may use this procedure when the opening (foramina) is narrowed causing pressure on the spinal nerves.
  • Spinal fusion is the permanent joining together of two vertebrae. This procedure permanently stops movement between the two vertebrae and limits the motion of your spine. Spinal fusion is usually needed with multilevel laminectomy to stabilize your spine.

Why is a laminectomy performed?

Your doctor may recommend a laminectomy to treat a variety of diseases and conditions of the spine.

Your doctor may only consider a laminectomy if other treatment options with less risk of complications are not working. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion.

Your doctor may recommend laminectomy when you have spinal cord compression with symptoms of myelopathy or spinal stenosis. Myelopathy is impaired function of the spinal cord. Symptoms include weakness, pain, numbness, clumsiness, poor balance, difficulty walking, and stiffness in the extremities. The goal of laminectomy is to relieve spinal pressure to stop myelopathy progression and allow healing.

Laminectomy relieves pressure on your spinal cord. However, completely removing the lamina makes your spine less stable. This increases the need for spinal fusion and the resulting loss of movement.

Your doctor may recommend laminectomy for persistent spinal or leg pain or other symptoms caused by:

  • Bone spurs, abnormal growths of bone on a vertebra, which can lead to compression of the spinal cord and nerves
  • Degenerative disc disease, a breakdown of the cushioning discs between the vertebrae, which can lead to compression of the spinal cord and nerves
  • Herniated spinal disc, displacement of the cushioning disc between the vertebrae
  • Sciatica, pain that runs down the buttock and leg due to compression of a nerve in the lower back
  • Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column causing pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
  • Spondylosis, also called spinal osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear on the discs in your spine