Laminectomy is surgery that creates space by removing bone spurs and tissues associated with arthritis of the spine. It usually involves removing a small piece of the back part (lamina) of the small bones of the spine (vertebrae). Laminectomy enlarges the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. Laminectomy is often done as part of a decompression surgery.

This pressure is most commonly caused by bony overgrowths within the spinal canal, which can occur in people who have arthritis in their spines. These overgrowths are sometimes called bone spurs. They’re a side effect of aging for some people. Bone spurs can also be inherited.

Laminectomy is generally used only when more-conservative treatments — such as medication, physical therapy or injections — have failed to relieve symptoms. Laminectomy might also be recommended if symptoms are severe or getting much worse.

Why it’s done

Bony overgrowths of the joints in the spine can build up within the spinal canal. They can narrow the space for the spinal cord and nerves. This pressure can cause pain, weakness or numbness that can radiate down arms or legs.

Because laminectomy restores spinal canal space, it’s likely to relieve the pressure that causes the radiating pain. But the procedure doesn’t cure the arthritis that caused the narrowing. So, it’s not likely to relieve back pain.

A health care provider might recommend laminectomy if:

  • Conservative treatment, such as medication or physical therapy, fails to improve symptoms
  • Muscle weakness or numbness makes standing or walking difficult
  • Symptoms include loss of bowel or bladder control

In some situations, laminectomy may be necessary as part of surgery to treat a herniated spinal disk. A surgeon may need to remove part of the lamina to get to the damaged disk.


Most people report measurable improvement in their symptoms after laminectomy, particularly a decrease in pain that radiates down the leg or arm. But this benefit may lessen over time with some forms of arthritis. Laminectomy is less likely to improve pain in the back itself.