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Decompression Laminectomy for Spinal Stenosis

  • What is a decompression laminectomy?

    Laminectomy is a surgical procedure to reduce the pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerve roots caused by spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal, this puts pressure on the spinal cord, which is filled with nerves, and leads to pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs, back, neck and arms.

  • Spinal laminectomy reduces the symptoms in the parts of your body that are affected by pressure in your spine, and helps you to return to your normal activities. The procedure involves surgery on your back to remove the bone or spurs that is putting the pressure on your spine. Laminectomy can also be used to treat spinal injuries, herniated discs (slipped discs) and spinal tumours.

    Risks of decompression laminectomy

    Apart from the general risks associated with surgery, decompression laminectomy is generally successful in relieving the symptoms of spinal stenosis. However, while the majority see an improvement in symptoms after six weeks, some patients may find that the pain persists or returns.

  • Prior to your operation, your doctor will brief you on the full procedure. The usual process is to avoid food and drink from the night before. It will also be helpful to dress in loose, comfortable clothing that will be easy to put on for your return home. It is also advisable for you to arrange for transport home.

    Decompression laminectomy is performed under general anaesthesia and you will be intubated with ventilator support.

    You will lie face-down, allowing the surgeon access to make a small incision in your back. This is done to expose the spine and the surgeon will then cut away any bone or spurs that are compressing the nerves. If necessary, additional procedures may be performed such as a spinal fusion, in order to stabilise the spine.

    Recovery period for decompression laminectomy

    Upon returning home, you will need to continue taking pain medication, and avoid sitting or standing for long periods in order to avoid blood clots. The operation site will need to be kept clean and dry to avoid infection – be sure to ask for step-by-step instructions.

    You will be asked to return in approximately two weeks for the stitches to be removed but in the meantime, you should seek medical advice for any sign of infection such as fever or swelling at the incision site.

    During your recovery, you should also avoid driving and limit any activities that require you to bend or lift items. Desk work and light housekeeping may be possible after a few days or weeks. However, if you also had spinal fusion performed, it will likely take several months.

    As recovery time is different for every individual, please discuss specific dos and don’ts with your doctor, who will also advise when you are ready for light exercise and physiotherapy.

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