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What Is a Posterior Laminectomy?

By Emma Miller
Updated May 17, 2024
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A posterior laminectomy is the surgical removal of a specific structure of the vertebrae called the lamina. Degenerative conditions of the spinal cord can cause severe pain because of the compression of nerves and the existence of the bony growths, known as bone spurs. Posterior laminectomies generally are aimed at relieving pain and improving the quality of life of patients who have degenerative conditions of the spine. The procedure decompresses the spinal cord and widens the spinal canal. Recovery typically takes several weeks, unless there are complications.

People who are suffering from degenerative changes of the vertebrae rarely require surgical intervention. Laminectomies usually are performed when patients have severe degeneration, multiple bone spurs, narrowing of the spinal canal and increased pressure on the spinal cord. This is a potentially serious condition, because the narrowing and the pressure that it places on spinal nerves can result in permanent nerve damage. There are several types of laminectomies, depending on the area and degree of degeneration. Posterior laminectomies are designed to treat disorders that stem from the back part of the spinal cord.

A posterior laminectomy is considered scheduled surgery. The procedure is generally elective. The risks associated with untreated severe degenerative disease of the posterior spine, however, are significant. Nerve damage and pain from narrowing of the spinal canal can greatly affect a person’s quality of life. A doctor typically will recommend a posterior laminectomy if severe degenerative disease is confirmed.

In a posterior laminectomy, the surgeon usually makes an incision down the back of the patient’s neck. Bone spurs and the laminae of the vertebrae that have a narrowing are removed with surgical instruments. During the procedure, blood vessels and muscles are moved out of the way. To protect nerves from damage, surgeons might choose to monitor the function of spinal cord nerves while operating. Electrodes might be used to monitor the body’s involuntary nerve impulses, otherwise known as somatosensory evoked potentials, and this might help prevent nerve damage during a posterior laminectomy.

Patients typically need to spend a day or two in hospital after a posterior laminectomy. Strenuous activity should be avoided for a few weeks, but patients usually are able to stand and walk on their own the day after surgery, and recovery typically is complete within two months. Possible complications include nerve damage, infection, bleeding and spinal instability.

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