A laminectomy is a surgical procedure that relieves pressure on nerves in the back or neck. The pressure is often caused by a nerve root compression, often called a “pinched nerve,” that causes severe neck, back or leg pain or weakness. Most often, the operation is performed on the lower back, or the lumber region of the spine. This surgery is called a lumbar laminectomy. If the procedure is performed on the neck, it is a cervical laminectomy.

Pressure or compression on a nerve can be caused by a variety of reasons, including:

  • herniated disc (also called a protruded, slipped or ruptured disc).
  • spinal stenosis (degeneration of the spaces between the vertebrae).
  • spondylolisthesis (also called a slipped vertebrae).

What happens during a laminectomy?

While a patient is fully asleep under a general anesthesia, the surgeon makes an incision in the back to reach the affected area of the spine. The surgeon then examines the spine to look for the source of the compression.

Once the compression is found, the source of the pressure is removed. This may include removing the ruptured portion of the disc, removing bony spurs and bone growth, or removing scar tissue.

After the cause of the compression is removed, the surgeon closes the incision and the nerve can begin healing. The surgery itself generally takes about two hours.

What happens after a laminectomy?

The pain that occurs after surgery, as after any surgery, can be relieved with pain medication. Patients sometimes feel continued pain, numbness or tingling where they previously felt pain because of the compressed nerve. This pain and numbness lessens as the nerve heals.

Most patients get up and walk the day after surgery under the guidance of medical personnel. The average hospital stay can be up to three days, depending upon individual circumstances.

Before leaving the hospital, a patient will be given specific instructions about wound care and which activities to avoid while the body heals from the laminectomy.