Back pain can get worse over time, depending on what is causing it. When it is serious, surgery may be recommended as a way to provide relief. Laminectomy surgery is one way to do that. While there have been many nonsurgical breakthroughs in the management of back pain, sometimes these methods don’t work for people for one reason or another.
Preparing for Laminectomy
Before having laminectomy surgery, your doctor and the surgeon will examine you to ensure that you are able to handle the surgery. A few days ahead of time, you will have an appointment with the anesthesiologist to discuss your options. Usually, you can choose between spinal anesthesia and general anesthesia. You will need to let the doctors know about any medications you are taking. You may be instructed to stop taking some of them before the surgery. If you smoke, you will be advised to cut down or stop beforehand because smoking produces some risks.
MRIs and x-rays will be done to get a good view of what is happening in your spine. An ECG may also be required along with routine blood work. You won’t be able to eat or drink after midnight the night before the surgery.
The Laminectomy Process
You will be placed on a table on your stomach in a kneeling position so that the weight of your abdomen isn’t pulling on your spine. A straight incision is made over the affected vertebrae and down to the bony arches of those vertebrae. These arches are called the “lamina.” The doctor removes the ligament that joins all or part of the lamina with the vertebrae to see if there is any nerve root involvement. The nerve root is gently moved back toward the center of the spine and the affected disc or portion of the disc is removed. When the procedure is complete and the incision is closed, the large muscle in the back protects the nerve roots and the spine. This surgery can take anywhere from one to three hours, and the blood loss is minimal.
After surgery, you are moved to a recovery area and you will stay there until you wake up. You will most likely lie on your back or your side, will have to have a catheter for your bladder, and should expect some pain. Compression stockings will be placed on your legs to avoid blood clots. Pain medication may be given orally or by IV, and you will be closely monitored. You might have difficulty sleeping at first or getting in and out of bed, but you will have help and the medical staff can show you techniques that will be easy for you.
Many surgeons plan to see patients one week after the operation to ensure the incision is healing correctly and that there are not any complications. This is also the time that any stitches or staples are taken out. The more extensive follow-up will be approximately four to eight weeks after the operation. If you respond well to the surgery, you can expect to return to normal activities.