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Key facts

  • A laminectomy is an operation to treat symptoms caused by pressure on your spinal cord.
  • Pressure on your spinal cord may be caused by many things, including injury and infection.

What is a laminectomy?

A laminectomy is an operation to treat symptoms caused by pressure on your spinal cord (spinal stenosis) or nerves. This might happen in your neck (cervical spine) or lower back (lumbar spine).

The surgeon increases the space in your spinal canal by removing bone and tissue pressing on your nerves. This reduces the irritation and inflammation.

When may a laminectomy be needed?

You may need a laminectomy if your spinal cord or the nerves of your spine are compressed. Sometimes this happens with ageing due to problems with your:

  • bones
  • joints
  • discs in your spine

The pressure may also be due to other problems such as:

  • achondroplasia — a type of dwarfism
  • scoliosis — an abnormal curve in your spine
  • a spinal cord tumour
  • an infection

The pressure might cause symptoms such as:

  • pain
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • weakness and clumsiness

Tests before a laminectomy

Your doctor will first investigate (look into) what's causing the pressure on your spinal cord.

Your doctor will examine your spine, muscle strength, reflexes and sense of feeling. They may also organise scans, such as:

How do I prepare for a laminectomy?

Your doctor will tell you what you need to do to prepare for surgery.

You will be asked to fast (not to eat or drink) before your surgery. You may also need to stop taking certain types of medicines.

What happens during a laminectomy?

If you are having a laminectomy, you will have a general anaesthetic. This means you will be unconscious and won't feel any pain.

The surgeon will make a cut near the problem spot. They will remove a small amount of bone or tissue to take the pressure off your spinal cord and nerves.

Depending on why you are having the surgery, your doctor might also need to remove a damaged disc (discectomy). Or they might join 2 or more vertebrae together (spinal fusion) to stabilise the bones above and below your damaged disc.

Your doctor will talk with you about all these possibilities before the operation.

Recovering from a laminectomy

You may be able to go home a couple of days after surgery. It can take a few months to fully recover from the surgery.

After the operation, your doctor might suggest exercises or rehabilitation. They might also suggest that you protect your back from further stress by limiting heavy lifting.

Possible complications from a laminectomy

Like all surgeries, there are some risks when you have a laminectomy.

Possible complications from laminectomy surgery include:

  • infection
  • bleeding
  • blood clots
  • nerve injury
  • spinal fluid leaks

Are there any alternatives to a laminectomy?

Alternatives to surgery depend on what's causing the problems with your neck or back.

Your doctor may suggest physiotherapy to help strengthen your back and abdominal muscles. This helps support and stabilise your spine.

Pain-relief medicines and anti-inflammatory medicines should be used before considering a laminectomy.

Resources and support

To find out more about different types of laminectomies, visit healthdirect's pages on:

You can also learn more about laminectomies on the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia website.

You can learn more about what you need to do before your laminectomy on healthdirect's preparing for surgery page.

If you want to know more about laminectomies, you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023

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