A Step-by-Step Guide to Cervical Laminectomy Surgery

As a result of cervical spinal stenosis, the spinal cord in the neck may become pinched. This can lead to some debilitating symptoms:

  • Shooting, electrical-like pain in arms or legs, especially when bending the head forward
  • Heavy feeling in the legs
  • A slow gait
  • Deterioration in fine motor skills

See Neck Pain Symptoms

Fortunately, these symptoms may be relieved by a procedure called a cervical laminectomy, which reduces the pressure on the spinal cord.

See Surgery for Neck Pain Symptoms

The objective of a cervical laminectomy procedure is to remove the lamina (and spinous process) and give the spinal cord more room. Watch: Cervical Laminectomy Video

Our cervical laminectomy video can help you understand how this procedure may help relieve cervical spinal stenosis pain.

See Spinal Stenosis Symptoms and Diagnosis

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How the lamina is removed

Narrowing of the cervical spine, or neck, may occur slowly over time as a result of aging. This cross-section shows how the narrowing of the spinal canal can compress the spinal cord and/or the nerves around it. When this happens, it's called spinal stenosis.

See What is Spinal Stenosis?

To attempt to relieve the pressure caused by this degenerative condition, your surgeon may recommend a cervical laminectomy.

See Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease

This involves removing the part of the vertebra that covers the spinal cord, the lamina, along with the bony protrusion attached to it, known as the spinous process.

See Vertebrae in the Vertebral Column

To begin the procedure, the surgeon will make a 3- to 4-inch vertical incision along the midline of the neck. To access the spine, the surgeon will strip away the paraspinal muscles, shown here in purple.

See Cervical Spine Anatomy and Neck Pain

Next, the surgeon will use a rotating wheel instrument, called a high-speed burr, to cut a small trough on both sides of the affected lamina, shown here as black lines.

Once the cut has been made, your surgeon will remove the spinous process and lamina as a single unit, shown here in purple. More than one spinous process and lamina may be removed, if necessary.

Once the lamina and spinous process are removed, the spinal cord (shown here in white) is no longer constricted and has more room to heal.

See Spinal Cord and Spinal Nerve Roots

When a fusion is also needed

Depending on your personal situation, you may also need a cervical spinal fusion after the laminectomy.

See Spinal Fusion is a Patient's Decision

A fusion fuses two or more vertebrae into a single unit using a bone graft (shown here in red) and possibly a supporting metal plate and screws.

See Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion for Cervical Spondylosis with Myelopathy

Finally, your surgeon will replace the paraspinal muscles, which will protect the spinal canal, and close the incision. You may have to wear a neck brace for some time following the surgery.

See Cervical Spinal Instrumentation

Learn more:

Cervical Spine Surgery

Controversies about Spinal Fusion Surgery: Allografts, Autografts, and Fusion Levels

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