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What is a Cervical Laminectomy?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A cervical laminectomy, also sometimes called a posterior cervical laminectomy, is one of several possible surgical operations performed on the cervical vertebrae. The cervical vertebrae consist of the seven vertebrae in the spine region. This type of surgery allows the surgeon to remove part of the back of the vertebrae, called the lamina. A laminectomy is performed to reduce the pressure to the spinal cord and surrounding nerves.

Spinal surgeries may be performed if the spinal cord becomes compressed, which is often due to aging. Patients who undergo this surgery often see their doctor because of persistent neck pain. They may also experience tingling or numbness down the arms, fever, or the loss of coordination. Before considering surgery, patients should try more conservative treatment approaches first. These may include bed rest, physical therapy, and pain medications.

Should conservative treatment methods fail, patients should carefully discuss surgery with their doctor. Preparation for a cervical laminectomy will begin a couple of weeks prior to surgery. Patients should disclose all medications and other medical conditions they have to their surgeon. Some drugs may increase the risk of bleeding, so surgeons may advise patients to stop taking them before surgery.

If the patient is taking a pain medication for neck pain, he may need to reduce the dosage or stop taking it before surgery. This can enhance the effectiveness of pain medications taken while the patient is recovering from surgery. Patients who smoke will need to refrain from smoking at least a full 24 hours prior to the procedure. This is to prepare the patient for anesthesia. Additionally, patients will be unable to eat or drink anything after midnight on the night before surgery.

To begin the cervical laminectomy, the surgeon will first make an incision down the spine. An x-ray may be used to ensure the correct identification of each vertebrae. Then the surgeon can remove the lamina, as well as any bone spurs or other extraneous material that may compress the nerves. In some situations, the surgeon will make a cut on the lamina and fold it back, rather than removing it completely. After removing all necessary material, the surgeon can stitch the incision back together.

During recovery from a cervical laminectomy, the patient may need to wear a neck brace. This will keep the head still while the area heals. The specific amount of recovery time needed will vary between patients. Surgeons will advise patients as to when they may return to work and other normal activities. Some patients may undergo physical therapy following surgery.

If there are any complications during surgery, the patient may need additional treatment. Some possible complications of a cervical laminectomy include infection, bleeding, and damage to the nerves or spinal cord. Patients may also experience a reaction to anesthesia, speech or swallowing difficulties, and cerebral spinal fluid leakage. Sometimes, patients may find that the surgery does little or nothing to help improve symptoms. Each case is unique, and patients should carefully consider possible risks before undergoing a cervical laminectomy.

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