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What is a laminectomy?

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.
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: May 7, 2013

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Medical References

Eidelson SG, Fessler RG, Garfin SR, et al. Save Your Aching Back and Neck: A Patient’s Guide. 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: SYA Press and Research Inc.; 2002:76-80. http://www.amazon.com/Save-Your-Aching-Patients-Guide/dp/0966925211..
Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf
Spinal Decompression: Laminectomy and Laminotomy. Mayfield Clinic and Spine Institute. http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/pdf/pe-decompression.pdf. Accessed April 15, 2013.

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