A compressed nerve is not a happy nerve. Much of the chronic pain we suffer outside of our joints is due to nerve compression involving our spinal cord and the nerve roots exiting the spinal cord. This can show itself in back pain directly at the site of the compression or it can show itself in the area serviced by the compressed nerve. The extreme leg pain of sciatica is like that. The pain in the buttock and leg has nothing to do with nerves in those areas. The origin of the pain is in the lumbar spine, where the sciatic nerve is being compressed and the pain is radiating outward down into the leg.
In this first blog of the New Year, let’s get into a procedure we often perform at Texas Neurosurgery to address nerve compression in the lumbar spine. It’s known as a lumbar laminectomy.
When would a lumbar laminectomy be necessary?
When a vertebra develops a growth such as a bone spur within the spinal canal, it shrinks the space available for the spinal cord and the nerves. This can create pressure (compression) on those nerves that causes pain, weakness, or numbness that can radiate down the patient’s arms and legs. If not treated, the compression can lead to loss of function and permanent nerve damage.
A laminectomy may also be necessary in herniated disc surgery to gain access to the damaged disc.
Your Texas Neurosurgery surgeon may recommend a laminectomy if:
- Conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, don’t improve symptoms
- You have muscle weakness or numbness that is making walking or even standing difficult
- You are experiencing loss of bladder and bowel control
Lumbar laminectomy surgery
A lumbar laminectomy is performed to the affected area of the lumbar spine with the patient under general anesthesia. After making an incision, muscles and ligaments are retracted in order to gain access to the spine. An x-ray device used during surgery helps visualize the structures of the vertebrae and accurately locates the area needing surgery.
Based on the extent of damage, the lamina may need either partial or full removal on both sides of the spine. Removing the lamina and other debris alleviates the spinal cord and nerve compression and symptoms improve. The procedure lasts from 1 to 3 hours on average.
These procedures are very successful for relieving leg pain due to nerve compression in the lower spine. Although it won’t guarantee that you can’t develop compression in another vertebra down the road, it would be highly unlikely if the area where we performed your laminectomy has that problem ever again.