You've been through physical therapy, muscle relaxers and pain medications but still have those sharp pains in your lower back and leg. Your doctor is now recommending surgery on your spine to relieve your pain. A laminectomy removes some of the bone in your spine that is causing nerve irritation and pain. While this is a common procedure done by an orthopedics doctor, it is still considered major surgery. Here is what you can expect as you prepare for, undergo and recover from a laminectomy procedure.
Preparing for the Surgery
Prepare to come home after the surgery and just rest for a few days. Ask a friend or family member to be available to help you out for the first few days after you get home. Have them bring you to your appointment and be available to take you home, should you be released the same day.
Stock up on grocery items. Get any errands done so you'll be able to stay home. You'll be tired and will have a little pain so you won't feel like getting out for a few days. Initially you won't be able to drive and your doctor will tell you how many days to wait until you can get back behind the wheel.
You'll meet with a doctor who will describe the type of anesthesia they will be using. Most laminectomies are done under general anesthesia. You'll be asleep and unaware of anything during the procedure. Occasionally, a regional anesthetic is used which numbs you from the waist down. In this case, you might be drowsy during the surgery but not fully asleep.
Once you are in the operating room and the anesthetic takes effect, the surgeon will make a small incision in your lower back to expose the spine, muscles and nerves. The x-rays and scans done earlier give the orthopedic surgeon an idea of what needs to be done. When they actually see what's going on in your back they may decide that they need to do a more or less complicated procedure to relieve your pain. Their options to reduce the pressure on your spine and nerves will be to:
- remove part of the vertebrae
- remove bone spurs on the vertebrae
- remove portions of a cartilage disc
- enlarge the spinal canal
- enlarge the spaces where nerves leave the spinal cord
- attach a flexible cable to stabilize the vertebrae
- use bone grafts to fuse vertebrae together
Once the procedure is completed, you'll be taken to a recovery area to wait until the anesthesia wears off. If the surgeon determined that simply removing some bone from the vertebrae would fix the problem, you may go home the same day. If more extensive work was done, you could expect to stay in the hospital for a few days.
Recovering from the Laminectomy
You will have pain in your back for several days. Your doctor will give you prescriptions for pain and anti-inflammatory medication. You'll also be limited as to how you should move:
- no bending or twisting at the waist for several days
- no lifting of heavy items for the same period
- no driving for a couple of weeks
- no sitting for long periods
All of these limitations are to reduce the stress on your lower back while you heal. Your doctor will tell you when you can return to normal activities, which depends on how extensive the surgery was:
- If the surgery was minor, such as the removal of bone spurs, you can resume light duties in a few days.
- If more extensive surgery was done, such as removal of a disc and fusing of vertebrae, it may be several months until you can safely bend at the waist and lift items.
You'll also be instructed to begin walking and doing light exercises to strengthen the muscles in your back and keep them flexible. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist (such as one from Family Medical Clinic) about your pace and limits so you don't push yourself too hard and cause a setback. Slow and incremental progress is the best way to recover from your back surgery.