What You Need to Know Before Deciding on a Laminectomy

What You Need to Know Before Deciding on a Laminectomy

Since the spine is a central part of the human body, back pain or discomfort can greatly affect a person’s quality of life. In treating a back ailment or injury, conservative means are usually tried first. These include oral medication, physical therapy, and injections. When there is still no relief, or if symptoms return or dramatically worsen, surgery may be needed. One of these surgeries is the laminectomy. It’s also known as decompression surgery.

How do you know if this surgery is right for you, in your particular situation? The following is some information to consider.

What Exactly is a Laminectomy and Why is it Done?

The spinal column is made of individual vertebra that, when working together, make the column strong and flexible. The lamina is part of the arch of the vertebra. Sometimes a person can develop arthritis in their spine, or a bony overgrowth called a spur, can develop on the lamina. When this happens, the space that was there, keeping everything working smoothly, can close in, causing abnormal pressure. This narrowing is called spinal stenosis.

The pressure can cause pain, muscle weakness, and numbness, and it can also result in difficulty standing and walking. It can even be so severe that it causes loss of control over the bowels or bladder. When the conservative treatments mentioned above don’t work or the symptoms are severe, a laminectomy may be in order. A laminectomy is a surgical removal of the lamina. The surgery creates space and relieves pressure in the spinal canal.

What are the Risks and Possible Complications?

As with any surgery, there are risks involved. Here are some of the risks related to a laminectomy:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Nerve injury
  • Spinal fluid leak
  • Increased pain
  • Spinal instability (This risk can be decreased by including a spinal fusion surgery.)

Also, it’s wise to note that if surgery is done due to osteoarthritis, the surgery cannot prevent further buildup from arthritis, and symptoms may return in the future. Although it’s important to know the risks before making a major decision, especially a medical decision, please note that the benefits generally outweigh the risks, and most surgeries are completed successfully.

What Kinds of Results can I Expect?

Results depend on the type of laminectomy done, as well as the reason for the surgery. In patients over 65, lumbar spinal stenosis is the most common reason for spinal surgery. Here’s what Dr. Peter F. Ullrich, Orthopedic Surgeon, had to say about lumbar laminectomies done to alleviate pain from spinal stenosis:

“Following a laminectomy, approximately 70% to 80% of patients will have significant improvement in their function (ability to perform normal daily activities) and a markedly reduced level of pain and discomfort associated with spinal stenosis.”

He also adds that the surgery can be especially effective for sciatica, which can be severe. These findings are great news for those who have been suffering from these unrelenting symptoms.

Important to note is that lumbar spinal fusion along with laminectomy has been shown to result in a better quality of life than if the laminectomy alone had been performed. This is according to the study results presented by Dr. Zoher Ghogawala, MD, director of the Wallace Clinical Trials Center at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut. He found that, compared with patients who had a laminectomy alone, those who also had spinal fusion reported a greater quality of life at 2 and 4 years post-surgery. They also had fewer recurrences of surgery within 5 years after the initial procedure. Although some patients were treated with fusion later, the results of the study show that the best outcomes resulted when the fusion was done up-front.

Clearly, there are many options and much information to consider. It’s best to discuss these matters with a doctor skilled in spine surgery. Please contact the office of Milwaukee back and spine surgeon Dr. Branko Prpa for more information about laminectomy or other surgeries or treatments.

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