The vertebral column supports the back and protects the spinal cord that runs through it. The nerves that branch out from the spinal cord are also protected and pass through special passages created by each vertebral bone. However, degeneration or herniation (bulging out) of the intervertebral disc that cushions each vertebral bone, injury, boney outgrowths due to arthritis or tumors can compress the spinal cord and nerves, causing debilitating back pain and disability. Nerve compression at the thoracic section of the vertebral column or the chest region can be treated by a surgical technique called thoracic laminectomy.

Thoracic laminectomy is a decompression surgery that releases pressure off the compressed nerve or spinal cord by removing the lamina, the portion of the vertebral bone that covers the spinal cord from the back. The surgery is indicated when conservative treatment does not relieve symptoms or symptoms progress drastically.

Thoracic laminectomy is usually performed under general anesthesia. You will be positioned on your stomach or side on the operating table. An incision is made in the midline, over the diseased thoracic vertebra with the help of X-ray guidance. The surrounding muscles are spread apart. Your surgeon then cuts and removes the lamina with a high-speed drill to relieve pressure off the compressed nerves. Extra bone (bone spurs), tumors or parts of the herniated disc is also removed to relieve the pressure. The incision is sutured or stapled and a sterile dressing/bandage applied.

Following surgery, you will be given pain medication to keep you comfortable. You will be advised physical therapy to improve range-of-motion and strengthen your muscles. Try to avoid bending, stooping and lifting heavy objects for a few months after the surgery. Depending on the kind of job, you can resume work in a few weeks.

As with all surgeries, thoracic laminectomy may be associated with certain complications such as wound infection, epidural hematoma (buildup of blood), blood clots in the legs (deep venous thrombosis) and cerebrospinal fluid leakage.

Useful Links

  • American Association of Neurological Surgeons
  • American Board of Neurological Surgery
  • American Medical Association
  • The Congress of Neurological Surgeons
  • College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland & Labrador
  • North American Skull Base Society
  • North American Spine Society