What is a laminotomy?

Laminotomy is the surgical incision and removal of a small part of a bony area of the spine called the lamina. The lamina is the back part of each vertebra 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 laminotomy can relieve pressure in your spinal canal and on spinal nerves. 

The word laminotomy is often used interchangeably with laminectomy. However, in a laminotomy only a small part of the lamina is removed, while in a laminectomy most of the lamina is removed. 

Laminotomy is a common but major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having a laminotomy. 

Types of laminotomy

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

The types of laminotomy procedures include:

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

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition to laminotomy. These include:

  • 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. Spinal fusions use a bone graft to fuse or join two vertebrae. Sometimes, your doctor will also use screws, rods or plates to hold your vertebrae in place. This procedure permanently stops movement between the two vertebrae.

Why is a laminotomy performed? 

Your doctor may recommend a laminotomy to treat certain diseases and conditions of the spine. Your doctor may only consider laminotomy for you if other treatment options with less risk of complications have been ineffective. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a laminotomy.

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

Your doctor may recommend a laminotomy for persistent spinal or leg pain caused by: 

  • Bone spurs, abnormal growths of bone on a vertebra, 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

Who performs a laminotomy?

An orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon performs a laminotomy. An orthopedic surgeon specializes in surgical treatment of diseases and conditions of the muscles and bones, including the spine. A neurosurgeon specializes in the surgical treatment of diseases and conditions of the nervous system, including the nerves of the spine.

How is a laminotomy performed?

Your laminotomy will be performed in a hospital or surgical center. Your surgeon will perform the surgery by taking out part of the lamina, the back part of your vertebra. This relieves pressure in your spinal canal or on the nerves in your neck or back. &