What might go wrong?
As with all major surgical procedures, complications can occur. Some of the most common complications following laminectomy include:
- problems with anesthesia
- nerve damage
- segmental instability
- ongoing pain
This is not intended to be a complete list of the possible complications, but these are the most common.
Problems with Anesthesia
Problems can arise when the anesthesia given during surgery causes a reaction with other drugs the patient is taking. In rare cases, a patient may have problems with the anesthesia itself. In addition, anesthesia can affect lung function because the lungs don't expand as well while a person is under anesthesia. Be sure to discuss the risks and your concerns with your anesthesiologist.
Thrombophlebitis (Blood Clots)
Thrombophlebitis, sometimes called deep venous thrombosis (DVT), can occur after any operation. It occurs when the blood in the large veins of the leg forms blood clots. This may cause the leg to swell and become warm to the touch and painful. If the blood clots in the veins break apart, they can travel to the lung, where they lodge in the capillaries and cut off the blood supply to a portion of the lung. This is called a pulmonary embolism. (Pulmonary means lung, and embolism refers to a fragment of something traveling through the vascular system.) Most surgeons take preventing DVT very seriously. There are many ways to reduce the risk of DVT, but probably the most effective is getting you moving as soon as possible. Two other commonly used preventative measures include
- pressure stockings to keep the blood in the legs moving
- medications that thin the blood and prevent blood clots from forming
Infection following spine surgery is rare but can be a very serious complication. Some infections may show up early, even before you leave the hospital. Infections on the skin's surface usually go away with antibiotics. Deeper infections that spread into the bones and soft tissues of the spine are harder to treat and may require additional surgery to treat the infected portion of the spine.
Any surgery that is done near the spinal canal can potentially cause injury to the spinal cord or spinal nerves. Injury can occur from bumping or cutting the nerve tissue with a surgical instrument, from swelling around the nerve, or from the formation of scar tissue. An injury to these structures can cause muscle weakness and a loss of sensation to the areas supplied by the nerve.
Laminectomy surgery can cause the spinal segment to loosen, making it unstable. The facet joints that connect the back of the spine normally give enough stability, even when the lamina is taken off. This is why surgeons prefer to leave the facet joints in place whenever possible. But these joints may have to be removed if they are enlarged with arthritis. During total laminectomy, the facet joints are removed. This procedure creates extra space around the nerves but often leads to segmental instability. Fusion surgery is generally needed to fix the loose segment.
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Many patients get nearly complete relief of symptoms from the laminectomy procedure. As with any surgery, however, you should expect some pain afterward. If the pain continues or becomes unbearable, talk to your doctor about treatments that can help control your pain.