Spinal stenosis, or spinal canal stenosis, is a narrowing of the canal in which the spinal cord sits. The narrowing can put pressure on the nerves in your back, which can cause pain and weakness in your arms or legs.
Surgery for spinal stenosis involves widening the canal to relieve the pressure on your nerves. The operation is called a laminectomy.
What causes spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is often caused by arthritis or disc prolapse. As well, some people are born with a congenitally narrowed spinal canal.
Why is laminectomy performed?
Surgery is performed when nerves branching out from the spine are being squashed, causing pain, weakness or numbness in the arms or in the buttocks or legs. Most people are advised to try other treatments first before resorting to surgery.
How to prepare for laminectomy
You will be asked to fast (not have anything to eat or drink) before your surgery.
It is helpful to know the risks of having surgery, and what the likely benefits or outcome will be. Discuss any questions you may have with your doctor when making your decision about having a laminectomy.
What happens during laminectomy?
You will be given a general anaesthetic and laid on your front. The surgeon makes a cut in your skin to get to the correct part of your spine. They remove part of the vertebra (spinal bone), along with some ligaments, to create space and take the pressure off your nerves. Sometimes they will also do a fusion (joining two bones together).
Finally, the surgeon closes any cuts with stitches or staples.
What to expect after your laminectomy
During recovery from your anaesthetic, you will be monitored and might be asked to move your arms and legs. You might go home the same day, or you might stay in hospital briefly.
You will need some time off work - the length of time might depend on the type of work that you do and your general health. You should minimise lifting and bending over for some months. Your surgeon might recommend physiotherapy.
What can go wrong?
Some people get an infection, or bleeding, or leakage of the spinal fluid. There is a small risk of blood clots in the legs or lungs. Some people find their symptoms don’t improve. And there is a small risk that a nerve will be damaged accidentally.
More information can be found at Neurosurgical Society of Australasia.
About surgical procedures
Visit the healthdirect surgical procedures page to learn more about surgical procedures in general, with information including:
Last reviewed: December 2016