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Decompressive surgery is done to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and/or spinal nerve roots caused by age-related changes in the spine and to treat other conditions, such as injuries to the spine, herniated discs, or tumors. Decompressive laminectomy is the most common type of surgery done to treat a narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis).
The lamina is the part of the vertebrae (the bones that make up the spine) that forms a protective arch over the spinal cord. Laminectomy removes parts of the lamina and/or thickened tissue that is narrowing the spinal canal and squeezing the spinal cord and nerve roots. This procedure is done through a surgical incision in the back (posterior).
In cases of cervical (neck) stenosis, the incision may be done on the front (anterior) or back (posterior) of the neck. Surgery from the front does not include cutting into the lamina, so the procedure is usually referred to as a type of decompressive surgery rather than "decompressive laminectomy."
Reducing pressure on the nerve roots can often relieve pain and allow resumption of normal daily activities.
Last Revised: February 13, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
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