Cervical Laminoplasty

What You Need to Know about Cervical Laminoplasty

Cervical laminoplasty is a surgical procedure sometimes used for some kinds of spine problems.  Cervical spinal stenosis is one spine problem commonly treated by a cervical laminoplasty, although surgery is often a last resort. 

In patients with cervical spinal stenosis, the diameter of their spinal cord is too narrow.  This causes too much pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots in the area, resulting in arm or leg weakness, problems walking, and balance problems.  The condition can be caused by congenital problems or spinal arthritis.  Other causes include bone spurs, disk and joint problems, and ligaments that have thickened.    

Doctors typically diagnose cervical spinal stenosis by looking at the patient’s MRI.  Doctors also use the MRI images to determine the best course of treatment, including surgery.

The surgical procedure used to treat spinal stenosis is called cervical laminoplasty.  The procedure involves expanding the diameter of the spinal canal.  This allows for more room inside the spinal cord and keeps the spinal canal from pressing on the nerves.  A cervical laminoplasty usually takes about two hours.  During the procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in the back of the neck.  He then raises the back part of the spinal canal up, making it wider.  The surgeon also removes part of the thickened ligament to create more room inside the spinal canal.  In order to help the spinal canal keep its new wider shape, the surgeon inserts titanium mini-plates into the spinal canal.  Some surgeons describe the procedure as cutting the back of the spine to create a door and then placing hinges on the door to hold it open and create more space inside the spinal canal.

A cervical laminoplasty can not only relieve pain in patients who have spinal stenosis, but also give some functionality back to their back, arms, and legs.  The procedure has also been known to stop further damages that occur when a patient has spinal stenosis for a long period of time. 

In most cases, patients who undergo a cervical laminoplasty are out of the hospital in just two or three days.  They are usually able to get up and start walking the day after the surgery.  Patients will have to wear a cervical brace for about six weeks after the procedure.  The brace looks like a soft collar and is worn around the neck.

A cervical laminoplasty is similar to a cervical laminectomy because they both relieve pressure in the spinal cord.  However during a laminoplasty, the surgeon simply repositions pieces inside the spinal canal instead of removing the pieces completely.  Some surgeons favor doing a laminoplasty over a laminectomy because the laminoplasty may preserve more abilities to move after the surgery. 

Many patients who have the surgery experience a much better quality of life for at least 10 years, although there is always a risk of complications during and after the surgery.  These complications range from the most basic ones, like bleeding and infection, to more serious ones like movement problems, which may occur soon after surgery or even many years later.

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