This article only provides general information about cervical laminectomy surgery. This information is not a substitute for advice from Dr Reddy. It does not contain all the information about this surgery and it does not account for your individual health, diagnosis or treatment plan.
A cervical laminectomy is a surgical procedure that makes more space in the spinal canal of the neck to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves or spinal cord, which may cause the following symptoms:
- neck pain
- pain, weakness and sensory changes (numbness, tingling, pins and needles) in the arms and hands
- changes in sensation in the torso
- difficulty walking
- bowel and bladder problems
Why might someone need a cervical laminectomy?
Sometimes, the spinal canal (the tunnel through which your spinal cord and nerves pass) or intervertebral foramina (the openings in your spine that allow your nerves to reach parts of your body) can become too narrow – a condition called spinal stenosis.
Spinal stenosis mainly occurs in older people because of changes to the spine as we age, including:
- spinal osteoarthritis
- degenerative changes to the cervical vertebrae (the neck spine aging and changing over time)
- facet-joint enlargement or facet-joint tissue thickening
- growth of bone spurs
- spinal-ligament thickening and hardening
- herniated (bulging or protruding) discs
- vertebra slippage (spondylolisthesis)
Other conditions that can cause spinal stenosis include:
- spinal rheumatoid arthritis
- epidural abscess
- spinal cord tumour
- Paget’s disease
- spinal injury
- congenital spinal stenosis (being born with spinal stenosis)
- scoliosis (spine curvature)
- achondroplasia (hereditary condition)
Symptoms of spinal stenosis may go away on their own or with nonsurgical treatment, such as physical therapy, injections and medication. However, a cervical laminectomy may be recommended to treat spinal stenosis if a person has:
- had pain in their neck or through their arms, weakness, tingling (pins and needles) and/or numbness, making it difficult to move or function despite trying nonsurgical treatments
- cervical myelopathy or compression of the spinal cord in the neck – symptoms include arm and hand weakness, loss of dexterity, changes in sensation in the upper chest and back, difficulty walking, bowel and bladder problem (these symptoms may be associated with, shoulder or arm pain, pain between the shoulder blades and headaches)
Speak with your surgeon to discuss if a cervical laminectomy is suitable for you.
How is a cervical laminectomy done?
First, the anaesthetist will give you medicine to put you to sleep. Then the neurosurgeon will make a small incision (a surgical cut) at the back of your neck and carefully move muscles aside to reach the relevant vertebra. The surgeon will use special tools to remove the lamina (a bone that forms the vertebral arch). Sometimes, only a very small part of the lamina needs removing, and this is called a laminotomy.
A laminectomy or laminotomy increases space in the spinal canal and allows the surgeon to remove or treat any structures narrowing it, such as osteophytes (bone overgrowths, also called bone spurs) or ligaments.
Once the surgery is complete, they will close the incision with sutures and a dressing will be placed over it.
What are the benefits of a cervical laminectomy?
Most people who have a cervical laminectomy report that their symptoms improve. People tend to feel less pain spreading down their arms after this surgery, depending on the severity and duration of pain they had. Arm and hand weakness plus sensory symptoms may ease too, although this may take longer.
If the spinal cord has not been permanently damaged from the compression, it may also become easier to walk.
Symptoms may continue in some people, despite successful surgery.
Because each person’s condition is different, it’s important to speak with Dr Reddy to understand if a cervical laminectomy is suitable for you.
What are the risks of a cervical laminectomy?
A cervical laminectomy is a safe and simple operation, but all surgical procedures have risks.
Some potential risks include but are not limited to:
- bleeding, infection, blood clots and reaction to anaesthesia, as with any type of surgery
- symptoms continuing, despite surgery
- cerebrospinal fluid leakage
- instability or kyphosis (forward collapse) of the neck
Very rare risks of this surgical procedure include:
- nerve or spinal cord damage, which can cause symptoms to worsen
- vertebral artery injury
This list is not exhaustive. Dr Reddy will discuss the risks with you in detail.
How should I decide to have a laminectomy?
You should only decide to have a laminectomy after carefully considering the procedure, including its benefits, risks and limitations.
If you do not have surgery to stop the pressure on your spinal nerves or spinal cord, more damage and symptoms can occur, including greater pain, paralysis, numbness or loss of bladder and bowel control.
If you decide to have surgery, you will need to sign a consent form. Please read this carefully before signing it. If you have any questions, ask Dr Reddy.
How do I prepare for a laminectomy?
Tell Dr Reddy which medications you are taking and whether you have any allergic reactions to any medicine.
You may need to fast (not eat or drink) before your procedure, and you may need to have tests before it takes place to ensure you are ready for surgery.
Make sure you speak with Dr Reddy during your consultation to be sure you know what to do before your procedure.
What happens after surgery?
After the surgery, you will be transferred to the recovery area where your health will be monitored until you are fully awake.
It is normal to feel some pain at the incision site, but pain medication can help to control this.
You will be transferred to the regular ward once you are awake. Most people who’ve had a cervical laminectomy will be up and walking within several hours – this is recommended to reduce the risk of blood clots in the legs.
You will be discharged in 1 to 3 days after your operation, depending on your health.
Please only refer to this information in consultation with Dr Reddy. If you have any questions, ask Dr Reddy.
- Neurosurgical Society of Australasia (Cervical laminectomy)