The spinal column is made up of a stack of vertebrae. The vertebrae are uniquely shaped bones that both make up the backbone and protect the spinal cord. Each vertebra has two laminae (singular: lamina) which are arch-shaped portions of the bone closer to the center of the body than the outside. The laminae are located near other portions of the vertebra called the spinal process and the facet joint.

The laminae themselves are bone and hardly ever become diseased. However, painful spinal conditions may occur if there is too much pressure placed on the spinal cord (which is entirely encased in the vertebral column) or nearby nerves. When this happens, surgery on the laminae can widen the column and thus help relieve pain and pressure.
Another reason to operate on the laminae is to help correct a spinal deformity.

What is the Difference Between Laminectomy and Laminotomy?

Even many healthcare professionals use these terms interchangeably, but they actually have a distinction.

  • A laminectomy completely removes the lamina.
  • A laminotomy partially removes the lamina.

The Purpose of a Laminectomy/Laminotomy

The main purpose served by a successful laminectomy or laminotomy is the relief of pressure on the spinal cord or nearby nerves or both.

Although these procedures do remove a portion of the bony vertebra, the spinal cord remains very well protected. The spinal cord remains encased in a bony column, even when the laminae are partially or entirely removed.

Laminectomy and laminotomy are often used to treat the following conditions. This list is not exhaustive.

Other Reasons for a Laminectomy/Laminotomy

Some patients may require entire or partial removal of the laminae during the course of another spine surgery. For example, a patient with a herniated disc may require a laminotomy if the surgeon cannot easily access the damaged disc without partly removing the lamina. In patients who have a tumor at or near the spine, a laminectomy may be required before the mass can be removed.

What to Expect from Laminectomy/Laminotomy

This particular technique is used to treat many conditions, so discuss your particular surgery with physician. If the lamina can be easily removed and no further procedures are required to support the spine, recovery can be relatively quick. If spinal fusion or other steps are required as part of the procedure in order to stabilize the spine, it can make for a longer procedure and slower recovery.

According to the World Health Organization, most people who had a laminectomy or laminotomy in the lower back were back to normal one year after surgery (when they were surveyed). While a laminectomy or laminotomy can provide spinal decompression and pain relief, it does not stop degenerative processes.

The University Spine Center has experience and expertise in laminectomy and laminotomy. Physicians from the University Spine Center can explain the risks and benefits of this procedure to you to determine if you are an appropriate candidate.