What is a laminectomy?
Sometimes called spinal decompression surgery, laminectomy is a type of back surgery that removes the back portion of the vertebrae, called the lamina, to widen the spinal canal and remove pressure and irritation on nerves. The lamina is located near the facet joints where vertebrae meet. When this area becomes narrowed, usually as a result of degenerative changes, the nerves can become pinched as they branch out from the spinal canal to other areas of the body. Laminectomy is often performed in people who have bone spurs, bony overgrowths that often occur as a result of arthritis of the spine.
When is a laminectomy performed?
Laminectomy is performed in men and women who have symptoms that occur as a result of nerve impingement in the spine. It can also be used to treat lower back pain caused by pressure on the nerves as they leave the spine; however, it doesn’t address back pain that’s directly caused by arthritis, which develops as the joint surfaces become worn down. Laminectomy is used when more conservative approaches like physical therapy, cortisone injections and medication have failed to provide relief from painful symptoms, and when symptoms worsen significantly and begin to interfere with regular activities of daily living. It’s often considered in patients who experience symptoms such as:
- leg pain or weakness that make it difficult to stand or walk
- pain or weakness in the arms
- loss of bowel or bladder control that occurs when the nerves controlling these functions become pinched
Laminectomy may also be used during surgical treatment of herniated discs to provide more space in the area of herniation and resolve pressure on affected nerve branches.
What is the laminectomy procedure like?
The laminectomy procedure begins with an incision over the vertebrae so the doctor can gently move the muscles aside to reach the underlying bone. The lamina is carefully removed using special instruments designed to ensure the remaining portion of the vertebra remains intact. When a herniated disc is involved, that portion of the disc and any free-floating fragments will also be removed. In some cases, spinal fusion may be needed to help stabilize the spine and prevent it from shifting. Spinal fusion uses bone grafts or other materials to encourage the development of bone tissue that serves as a solid support between vertebrae. Small rods or screws may be used to support the spine while the bone tissue grows over time. In some cases, a laminectomy can be performed using a minimally invasive technique with several small incisions instead of one larger one. The laminectomy procedure is most commonly performed using general anesthesia.
What is recovery like?
Once the procedure is over, you’ll be moved to a recovery area so you can be monitored for a few hours. Some surgeries can be performed as same-day procedures, which means you’ll go home later in the day; other procedures may require a brief hospital stay. During recovery, pain medication can be used to minimize any discomfort at the incision site, and physical therapy may be prescribed soon after your procedure to help strengthen your spine and improve your flexibility and mobility. For several weeks, you’ll need to avoid lifting and bending to enable your spine to heal properly. Most people can return to work within a few weeks. Surgeries involving spinal fusion generally involve longer recovery times, sometimes up to six months or a little longer.
Does insurance cover laminectomy procedures?
Most insurance companies cover a laminectomy that is medically necessary, so long as you have demonstrated that more conservative approaches have failed to provide relief. The Central Spine partner physician offices can call your insurance company on your behalf to ask about your specific plan coverage.