Sarah Lewis, PharmD

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, laminotomy surgery removes only a small part of the lamina, while laminectomy removes most of the lamina. 

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 surgery 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:

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  • 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.


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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.  

Surgical approaches to laminotomy

Laminotomy is performed using one of the following approaches:

  • Microlaminotomy is a minimally invasive procedure. It involves inserting special instruments and an arthroscope through small incisions in your back or neck. An arthroscope is a thin, lighted camera that transmits pictures of the inside of your body to a video screen viewed by your surgeon while performing the surgery. Microlaminotomy generally involves a faster recovery and less pain than open surgery. This is because it causes less damage to tissues and organs. Your surgeon will make small incisions instead of a larger one used in open surgery. Surgical tools are threaded around muscles and tissues instead of cutting through or displacing them as in open surgery.

  • Open surgery requires a large incision in your back over the affected vertebra. The length of the incision will depend on how many vertebrae need to be treated. Open surgery allows your surgeon to directly see and access the surgical area. Open surgery generally involves a longer recovery and more pain than minimally invasive surgery. Open surgery requires a larger incision and more cutting and displacement of muscle and other tissues than minimally invasive surgery. Despite this, open surgery may be a safer or more effective method for certain patients.

Your surgeon will advise you on which procedure is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. Learn about the different procedures and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type for you.

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your surgeon will perform your laminotomy using general anesthesia. General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain. 

You may also have a peripheral nerve block infusion in addition to general anesthesia. A peripheral nerve block infusion is an injection or continuous drip of liquid anesthetic. The anesthetic flows through a tiny tube inserted near your surgical site to control pain during and after surgery.

What to expect the day of your laminotomy

The day of your surgery, you can generally expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form. 

  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.

  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will receive.

  • A surgical team member will start an IV.

  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia.

  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.

  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.

What are the risks and potential complications of a laminotomy? 

As with all surgeries, a laminotomy involves risks and possible complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.  

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing 

  • Bleeding, which can lead to shock

  • Blood clots, in particular a <