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What is a Lumbar Laminectomy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A lumbar laminectomy is a type of spinal surgery which is designed to relieve pressure on the spinal column and nerves. This procedure is also known as an open decompression. Like other surgical procedures, a lumbar laminectomy comes with some definite risks, but the procedure can be highly effective in treating leg pain and gait problems caused by problems in the spinal canal, making it worth it for some patients. Some surgeons have a success rate as high as 80%, which can be significant for patients who are suffering from extreme pain.

This procedure is necessitated by degenerative spinal conditions which cause a buildup of pressure along the spinal canal. The spinal canal itself may be impinged upon by bone spurs and a narrowing of the spaces between the vertebrae, and the nerves exiting the spinal column can also be pinched between the vertebrae. A lumbar laminectomy will usually be recommended after noninvasive treatment methods have failed.

In the surgery, the doctor makes an incision in the lower back, approaching the spine and stripping muscles away from the area as he or she works. Once the spinal column is exposed, the vertebrae in the area of concern are very carefully trimmed, with the doctor removing soft tissue, bone spurs, and sometimes parts of the vertebrae as well to relieve pressure. In some cases, the surgeon may need to install pins or screws to stabilize the spine. Next, the incision is closed, and the patient is brought out of anesthesia.

Patients should expect to stay in the hospital for around three days after a lumbar laminectomy. They are encouraged to walk and engage in gentle physical therapy during the healing stages, but heavy lifting and twisting are not advised, since these activities can tear at the site of the surgical incision. If the surgery is a success, the patient should have significantly reduced leg and back pain, with the laminectomy procedure being most successful in the treatment of leg pain.

Any time someone goes under anesthesia, there are risks due to the potential for adverse reactions to anesthesia. These risks are greatly reduced by working with a skilled surgical team, but they should be considered when patients decide whether or not to get a lumbar laminectomy. A surgeon should be comfortable discussing specific risks with a patient before the surgery takes place. Spinal surgery also carries some risk, including permanent nerve damage, infection, and paralysis. It is a good idea to ask for a surgeon's record and to confirm that he or she is board certified prior to the surgery.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By abprops — On Oct 07, 2012

How is the space created by removal of muscle replaced when the wound is closed?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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