Laminotomy versus Laminectomy

Laminotomy and laminectomy are spinal decompression surgeries involving the lamina, a thin bony layer that covers and protects the spinal canal and spinal cord. An easy way to learn the difference between these terms is to remember that ectomy means to remove. For example, an appendectomy is the removal of the appendix.

Laminotomy is the partial removal of the lamina. Laminectomy is the complete removal of the lamina. It is important to know that the terms are often used interchangeably.  


Lamina Partially Removed


Lamina Entirely Removed

Laminotomy and laminectomy are spinal decompression procedures. In other words, they aim to alleviate pressure on the spinal nerves and/or spinal cord. These surgeries relieve spinal nerve compression either by the complete or partial removal of the lamina (laminectomy), or by making a larger opening in the lamina (laminotomy).
Patients can have laminectomies performed at several levels and still remain structurally stable. You should also know that the spinal cord and nerves are well protected by the bridge of bone on each side, as well as the overlying muscle and fascia, so the spinal cord is not as exposed as you might think. 
Below are some spinal conditions that may be treated with a laminotomy and/or laminectomy (this is not an all-inclusive list):
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Herniated disc
  • Sciatica
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylosis (also known as spinal osteoarthritis)
If an intervertebral disc has herniated, the surgeon may need to remove pieces of the disc compressing nerve roots. The lamina may obstruct the surgeon's view of an intervertebral disc, so with part or all of the lamina removed, the surgeon has a better view of the disc. These spinal decompression procedures also provide greater access to the spinal canal and other parts of the spinal anatomy.

This article is an excerpt from the book Save Your Aching Back and Neck: A Patient’s Guide, edited by Dr. Stewart Eidelson.

Updated on: 11/22/17
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