Cervical laminectomy

Cervical laminectomy surgery is a procedure that is performed to alleviate persistent, often debilitating pain caused by pressure on the nerves (neural impingement), a herniated disc or a tumor of the cervical (neck area) spine. During the surgery, the spine surgeon removes a small portion of the bone (lamina) over the nerve root, as well as disc material from a herniated or ruptured disc that may be under the nerve root. This gives the nerve root more space and an opportunity to heal. 

Structure of the cervical spine

The spinal column, also called the vertebral column or backbone, is made up of 33 vertebrae that are separated by spongy disks. Seven of the vertebrae are in the cervical area of the spine, starting in the upper torso and ending at the base of the skull. The vertebrae and bones are joined with other parts of the spinal structure that include:

  • Lamina – The bony arch on the posterior (back) part of the vertebrae that is over the spinal column. This is the part of the spine that is removed during a laminectomy.
  • Discs – Soft, shock-absorbing cushions between the bones of the vertebrae that allow the back to bend while preventing the vertebrae from rubbing against each other
  • Spinal cord – The bundle of nerves that connects the brain to the rest of the body. The spinal cord passes through the center of the vertebrae.
  • Spinal nerves – Nerves that connect the spinal cord to the rest of the body. These nerves may become compressed or “pinched” by a vertebra or disc.
  • Muscles and ligaments – These connective tissues support and protect the spinal column, providing both strength and movement.

Conditions treated

  • Cervical spinal stenosis – Spinal stenosis occurs usually in elderly patients, and is caused by degenerative changes that result in narrowing of the spinal column and the enlargement of the facet joints (small joints that connect the vertebrae). When the facet joints are enlarged, they place pressure on the spinal cord and the nerve roots that branch out from it. Nerve compression can cause severe pain and other nerve-related problems that can be debilitating. Cervical laminectomy surgery is effective for decreasing pain and improving function for patients with spinal stenosis.
  • Herniated (ruptured) disc – Discs are shock-absorbing cushions that sit between the vertebrae of the spine and prevent the vertebral bones from rubbing against one another. A herniated disc can be the result of degeneration associated with overuse or aging, or it can be caused by injury or disease. When discs rupture, they bulge outside of their normal position between the vertebrae and can press on the spinal cord and the nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord. Ruptured (herniated) discs can cause instability in the spine, abnormal movement and severe nerve compression symptoms such as pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in the neck, arms and even legs.
  • Spinal injuries and tumors.

Problems in your cervical spine that cause pressure on nerves can trigger debilitating pain, weakness and numbness in both arms and legs and even make it difficult for you to walk. The pain can interfere with normal functioning and activities. 

Results

Cervical laminectomy surgery has a favorable success rate. The majority of patients have significant improvement in the ability to perform normal daily activities and a noticeably reduced level of pain and discomfort. Cervical laminectomy surgery is considered only if nonsurgical treatments have proven to be ineffective.

The multidisciplinary team of spine experts at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute performs cervical laminectomy surgery as well as a broad range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for conditions that affect the spine.

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