Spinal Cord Compression

Cervical laminectomy is an operation designed to relieve pressure on the spinal cord caused by wear and tear changes in the cervical spine. It involves an incision over the back of the neck. It is primarily designed to stop symptoms of numb, clumsy hands and difficulties in walking getting worse. Occasionally people experience marked improvement in these symptoms but I always regard that as an added bonus rather than an expectation. This operation has a mixed effect on neck pain. Sometimes neck pain improves, in a small number of people it will be worse, in the majority it will remain unchanged. Neck pain includes that felt over the shoulders, neck, back of the head, between the shoulder blades and sometimes over the scalp to the forehead.  

Overall cervical laminectomy is a very safe and effective operation but as with all operations there are risks. The risks include nerve root damage, which can leave you with a numb/floppy hand/arms, haemorrhage, infection and fluid leaks. The latter three complications can lead to a longer stay in hospital and/or second or third procedures. These risks total some 1-2%. There is also theoretically a very small risk of paralysis of both arms and legs. This is to reflect potential damage to the spinal cord that during this operation that we come very close to. Cervical laminectomy does not protect you from the small possibility of further wear and tear changes in the neck.  

The operation usually takes about 1-2 hours. We get you up as soon as you are able and you are able to go home as soon as you are comfortable- generally 1-2 days postoperatively. Most people will experience some discomfort at the back of the neck but this settles down as the tissues start to heal.

The recuperation period varies between people but on average is 6-12 weeks. During this time we encourage people to walk as much as possible, lie as much as possible but to only sit for limited periods (20-30 minutes). You should refrain from driving for 2-3 weeks, longer if you are still in pain. You will be given a set of exercises to do at home after discharge but I do not routinely recommend any further physiotherapy at this early stage. At the 2-3 month stage dependent upon your overall health and mobility you could be thinking about taking some more vigorous exercise. Walking, swimming, aerobic classes are all very suitable but please avoid contact sports, rowing machines and lifting weights! Physiotherapy can help if you are having difficulties at this stage.  

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