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Learning About Laminotomy and Laminectomy Surgery

What are laminotomy and laminectomy?

Laminotomy and laminectomy are two surgeries to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. They make the opening in the spine (spinal canal) larger. As you get older or if you have an injury, the opening for the spine gets smaller. This condition is called stenosis.

During a laminectomy, the doctor removes pieces of the bony covering (the lamina) and other tissues that are squeezing the spinal cord and nerves. A laminotomy removes less of the bony covering. Both surgeries make the opening for the spinal cord and nerves larger. This takes pressure off the nerves.

How is a laminotomy or laminectomy done?

The doctor will make a cut (incision) over your spine. The muscles around your spine are pulled to the side so the doctor can work on the bones (vertebra) of the spine. The doctor can then trim thickened tissue, such as bulging discs. And he or she can take out some bone to make the opening for the spinal cord or nerves larger.

Sometimes, after the doctor makes the opening larger, he or she will do another type of surgery called spinal fusion. The doctor will insert a small piece of bone from another part of the body or from a bone bank. This piece of bone can help the spine heal. Sometimes small plates and screws are used to keep the bones in place.

Surgery will last from 1 to 1½ hours, depending on how much tissue the doctor cuts away. If a spinal fusion is done at the same time, surgery will last 2 to 4 hours.

What can you expect after a laminectomy or laminotomy?

Plan for a hospital stay of 1 or 2 days. You will have some pain after surgery. You will get medicine to treat the pain. Do not be discouraged if you do not feel better right away.

As soon as the anesthesia wears off, you can start moving in the hospital. Get up and walk carefully as soon as you can. This will help your body heal. You may shower on the day after surgery. You will have help changing the bandages over your stitches after you bathe.

You can return to your usual activities after 4 to 6 weeks. It may take longer for you to do more strenuous exercise. Do not drive until your doctor says it is okay. If you had a spinal fusion, it needs time to heal. Sudden twisting movements can slow healing.

If you had a spinal fusion done, you may need more time to get back to your usual activities. You may need to wear a brace.

You may feel tired for several weeks after surgery. You will feel stiff and sore. But you should feel a little better every day. Daily exercise will help you get back your energy. Try walking. See if you can walk a little bit farther every day.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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