If you had a minor (decompressive) laminectomy, you may return to lighter activities such as sedentary work or housekeeping within a few days to weeks. However, if you had another major procedure along with a laminectomy (such as spinal decompression), the recovery period may prolong from two to four months. You may not be able to bend for two to three months, and you are strictly not allowed to lift heavy objects.
For a speedy recovery, your doctor will suggest you start light walking and undertake physiotherapy under supervision for some days after the surgery. After the surgery, your back pain may take six weeks or more to get better.
Complete recovery after a laminectomy depends on the extent of your surgery, your general health, any underlying medical conditions, the number of segments treated and your condition after the surgery. It may take a few months to fully recover after this surgery.
What is a lamina?
The laminae are flat plates of the bone originating from the sides of the round vertebral bones that form the hind part of the spine. Various nerves and small blood vessels pass through the holes in these structures. Disruption in laminal placement will often cause spinal instability or abnormal movement between two vertebrae that can cause pain or damage the spinal cord and nerves.
What is a laminectomy?
Laminectomy is one of the most common back surgeries performed for back pain. In this procedure, a surgeon removes the hind part (the lamina) of one or more spinal bones (vertebra). This surgery creates space by removing the lamina, relieving the pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. This surgery may be done in cases of injury, a tumor, protrusion of the disc (herniated disc) or narrowing of the canal (stenosis). Any bony overgrowth and tissue that are pressing on the nerves may be removed at the same time. This is known as a decompression surgery. There are three types based on the location of the spinal bone. When it is performed
- In the neck region, it is known as a cervical laminectomy.
- In the middle back, it is known as a thoracic laminectomy.
- In the lower back, it is known as a lumbar laminectomy.
When will your doctor suggest a laminectomy?
Your doctor may suggest a laminectomy if you have back or leg pain, muscle weakness, numbness or bladder or bowel impairment. This may occur because of compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots due to various medical conditions such as
- Spinal canal stenosis: It is the main reason for which your doctor will recommend a laminectomy. Narrowing of the spinal cord may occur in this condition due to
- Arthritis: Bony overgrowth or bone spurs during the aging process in some people may lead to pressure on the spinal canal.
- Sciatica: It is mostly caused by pressure on the nerve roots at the base of the spine, especially in the lumbar (middle back) region.
- Cauda equine syndrome
- Ankylosing spondylitis: This is a progressive, inflammatory disease that leads to fusion of the spinal bones and causes stiffness and a hunched posture. It is often incurable.
- Degenerative disc disease: It is degeneration of cushioning between the discs in between the spinal bones due to aging. It may contribute to other problems such as protrusion of the disc, osteoarthritis of the spine and spinal stenosis.
- Herniated disc: If your spinal bone disc is damaged by pressure because of sudden movement or injury, it may protrude outward or even rupture under force.
- Osteoarthritis: Spine bone degeneration caused by aging and constant damage is known as spinal osteoarthritis. It can affect the spinal discs or facets of the joints. When these bones rub against each other, bony overgrowth may form that may compress the spinal cord. This pressure can cause pain or numbness that radiates down your arms or legs.
Your orthopedic doctor may advise a laminectomy if
- Nonsurgical treatment options such as medication or physical therapy and steroidal injections fail to improve or relieve your symptoms.
- Your symptoms are severe or worsening dramatically such as severe muscle weakness or numbness that causes difficulty in standing and walking.
- You have lost your bowel or bladder control completely.
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What should you expect after a laminectomy?
After a laminectomy, you should expect
- Hospital stay: Mostly, you need to stay at the hospital for a few days and then get hospital discharge if there are no other issues.
- Physical activity: You can walk immediately two to three days after the surgery but with caution. You can exercise, but activities should be performed with caution for several weeks while you heal.
- Physiotherapy: Some people may benefit from physiotherapy afterward.
- Benefits: Most people experience measurable improvement in their disease symptoms after a laminectomy, especially reduction in numbness and radiating pain in the legs or arm. However, these benefits may fade away over time if you have a specific aggressive form of arthritis because it does not cure your arthritis.
What are the risks and complications?
Laminectomy is a major surgery with residual scar tissue formation. It may cause potential complications such as
- Nerve damage
- Blood clots
- Spinal fluid leakage
- Post-laminectomy syndrome (persistent back pain following the surgery)
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