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During a laminectomy the surgeon removes enough bone and tissue from the back of the spine to free trapped nerves.

For a number of reasons your spinal canal can narrow putting pressure on nerves within the canal or where they leave the spine between your vertebrae. This is called spinal stenosis. Symptoms can include pain and weakness in your legs.

If you have only mild symptoms you may not need any treatment. If you have pain down your leg that is caused by pressure on a nerve in your lower back (sciatica) your consultant may recommend an epidural injection. If your pain is severe or it continues for several months your consultant may recommend a laminectomy.

You will usually have an MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis and help your surgeon to plan your operation.

What happens during a laminectomy?

A laminectomy is usually done under general anaesthetic and takes between one and three hours.

Your surgeon will make a cut in the center of your back. They will remove enough bone and tissue from the back of your spine to free the trapped nerves. In some cases your surgeon may need to join the bones using a bone graft. If your surgeon feels your spine may be unstable they will use metal screws and rods to permanently connect two or more of your vertebrae together (spinal fusion).

After a laminectomy

Immediately after your surgery you will be taken to the recovery area. Staff will monitor your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. If you are in any pain be sure and tell the recovery room staff. When you are stable a nurse will take you to your room.

Once you are back in your room, our nursing team will continue to check on you to make sure you are recovering well. After you’ve recovered from any effects of the anaesthetic, you can have something to eat and drink. Be sure and tell us if you are in any pain.

Some patients have difficulty passing urine after a laminectomy. If you are in any discomfort please tell a member of our Healthcare Team.

You will be encouraged to get up and move around as soon as possible - usually within 24 hours of your operation. Please wait for a member of our Healthcare Team to help you out of bed for the first time.

A physiotherapist will visit you to advise you on any restrictions and give you exercises to help you regain mobility. You may be advised to avoid bending, twisting or lifting anything heavy for the first six weeks following surgery.

Going home after a laminectomy

Your length of stay in hospital will depend on the level of surgery you needed. Patients who have a simple laminectomy with no fusion may go home the day after surgery. If you had spinal fusion your stay may be longer. Any stitches or staples will be removed 10 - 14 days after your operation.

You will not be able to drive or return to work until you are released to do so at your follow-up appointment with your consultant. Please arrange for someone to take you home on the day of your discharge.

You may feel very tired and sore for the first few weeks. It is important to rest and allow your body to heal.

You will be encouraged to walk during your recovery. Start with short distances and build up slowly. Avoid sitting for long periods. Keeping mobile will help you to avoid DVT (deep vein thrombosis).

Most people make a good recovery and return to normal activities follow a laminectomy. As with any surgery there can be complications:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Blood clots
  • Infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Chest infection
  • Heart attack or stroke

Specific complications of laminectomy:

  • Continued pain or numbness
  • Numbness between your legs, loss of normal bowel and bladder control and, in men, problems having an erection
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Tear of the thin membrane that covers the nerves in your spine
  • Infection in the spine
  • Spinal instability.

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