A laminectomy is a surgical procedure that removes a portion of the vertebral bone called the lamina. At its most minimally invasive, the procedure requires only small skin incisions. The back muscles are pushed aside rather than cut and the parts of the vertebra adjacent to the lamina are left intact. Recovery occurs within a few days.
The lamina is a posterior arch of the vertebral bone lying between the spinous process (which juts out in the middle) and the more lateral pedicles and the transverse processes of each vertebra. The pair of laminae, along with the spinous process, make up the posterior wall of the bony spinal canal. Although the literal meaning of laminectomy is ‘excision of the lamina’, a conventional laminectomy in neurosurgery and orthopedics involves excision of the posterior spinal ligament and some or all of the spinous process. Removal of these structures with an open technique requires disconnecting the many muscles of the back attached to them. A laminectomy performed as a minimal spinal surgery procedure is a tissue-preserving surgery that leaves more of the muscle intact and spares the spinal process. Another procedure, called the laminotomy, is the removal of a mid-portion of one lamina and may be done either with a conventional open technique or in a minimalistic fashion with the use of tubular retractors and endoscopes.
A lamina is rarely, if ever, removed because the lamina itself is diseased. Instead, removal is done to break the continuity of the rigid ring of the spinal canal to allow the soft tissues within the canal to: 1) expand (decompress); 2) change the contour of the vertebral column; or 3) permit access to deeper tissue inside the spinal canal. A laminectomy is also the name of a spinal operation that conventionally includes the removal of one or both lamina, as well as other posterior supporting structures of the vertebral column, including ligaments and additional bone. The actual bone removal may be carried out with a variety of surgical tools, including drills, rongeurs and lasers.
The recovery period after a laminectomy depends on the specific operative technique, with minimally invasive procedures having significantly shorter recovery periods than open surgery. Removal of substantial amounts of bone and tissue may require additional procedures such as spinal fusion to stabilize the spine and generally require a much longer recovery period than a simple laminectomy.
If you also had spinal fusion, your recovery time may be longer. In some cases after laminectomy and spinal fusion, it may be several months before you can return to your normal activities. Potential complications include: bleeding, infection, blood clots, nerve injury, & spinal fluid leak.
For spinal stenosis
Most commonly, a laminectomy is performed to treat spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is the single most common diagnosis that leads to spinal surgery, of which a laminectomy represents one component. The lamina of the vertebra is removed or trimmed to widen the spinal canal and create more space for the spinal nerves and thecal sac. Surgical treatment that includes a laminectomy is the most effective remedy for severe spinal stenosis; however, most cases of spinal stenosis are not severe enough to require surgery. When the disabling symptoms of spinal stenosis are primarily neurogenic claudication and the laminectomy is done without spinal fusion, there is generally a rapid recovery and long term relief. However, if the spinal column is unstable and fusion is required, the recovery period can last from several months to more than a year, and the likelihood of symptom relief is far less probable.
In a microdiscectomy or microdecompression spine surgery, a small portion of the bone over the nerve root and/or disc material from under the nerve root is removed to relieve neural impingement and provide more room for the nerve to heal.
A microdiscectomy is typically performed for a herniated lumbar disc and is actually more effective for treating leg pain (also known as radiculopathy) than lower back pain.
Impingement on the nerve root (compression) can cause substantial leg pain. While it may take weeks or months for the nerve root to fully heal and any numbness or weakness to get better, patients normally feel relief from leg pain almost immediately after a microdiscectomy spine surgery.
How Microdiscectomy Surgery Is Performed
A microdiscectomy is performed through a small (1 inch to 1 1/2 inch) incision in the midline of the low back.
- First, the back muscles (erector spinae) are lifted off the bony arch (lamina) of the spine. Since these back muscles run vertically, they can be moved out of the way rather than cut.
- The surgeon is then able to enter the spine by removing a membrane over the nerve roots (ligamentum flavum), and uses either operating glasses (loupes) or an operating microscope to visualize the nerve root.