A laminectomy is an operation to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. It involves the removal of part of the vertebral bone (lamina) and the associated arthritic tissue or disc herniation which frees (or decompresses) the spinal cord and/or nerve roots.

The surgery aims to alleviate and prevent deterioration of symptoms, such as pain or numbness and weakness, caused by the compression.

It is a definitive treatment for spinal stenosis (spinal narrowing) which may be secondary to disc herniation (disc protrusion or “slipped disc”), overgrown ligament or bone (spinal arthritis, also known as spondylosis), spondylolisthesis or other compressive lesions such as spinal tumours.

A laminectomy is almost always performed under general anaesthetic. Dr Laban uses intra-operative X-ray guidance and operative microscope to minimise risk, increase accuracy and reduce complications.

Depending on the complexity of the operation and your level of mobility before the operation, you will be able to leave hospital one or two days after the procedure. Most people are able to walk unassisted, climb stairs and safely partake in light activities the day after surgery. More strenuous activities will need to be avoided for about 6 – 12 weeks.

In general, Dr Laban advises no driving for two weeks (and until you can safely perform an emergency stop and are no longer taking strong painkiller), carrying no more than 5kg for the first 6 weeks and no more than 10kg from 6 – 12 weeks following the operation. Return to activities should be graded (stepwise) with the above caveats.

The wound should be kept clean and dry for one to two weeks until it is well healed.

Risks of a laminectomy

Significant complications following a laminectomy are rare but, like all surgery, a laminectomy carries risk.

These risks include (but are not limited to): abnormal scarring or bleeding; infection at the site of the operation; leak of the spinal fluid (CSF leak) which surrounds the nerves; damage to the spinal nerves or cord resulting in pain, numbness, weakness, paralysis, incontinence or sexual dysfunction (this is rare); symptoms remaining the same, increasing or recurring; recurrent neural compression (e.g. recurrent herniation of disc substance known as nucleus pulposus); instability or adjacent segment disease; the need for further procedures; venous thromboembolism: a blood clot in a vein, usually in the leg which in rare cases can dislodge and travel to the lungs; cardiorespiratory complications; and general anaesthetic risks.