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Lumbar laminectomy

How a lumbar laminectomy can release nerve pressure and relieve pain

A lumbar laminectomy is a type of spinal surgery used when you have lower back or leg pain due to your nerves pressing against your spinal canal. This may have happened due to an impact injury, a slipped (or herniated) disc, a tumour, spinal stenosis (when your spinal canal narrows), or bony overgrowths in your spinal canal - usually caused by arthritis. When the space in your spinal canal reduces, your nerves and spinal cord may compress against the canal, causing pain and numbness in your lower back and legs.

Surgery involves removing either some or all of your lower vertebral bone (your lower spine bone, known as your lamina), which increases the space through which your spinal cord and nerves travel and relieves pressure in this area.

Your consultant will initially look to treat your problem with non-surgical measures, such as physiotherapy exercises and anti-inflammatory medications. If these treatments don't relieve your symptoms, they may recommend a lumbar laminectomy. It is one of the more common procedures for eliminating compression in your spinal cord and nerve roots, and is generally used for middle aged and older adults. It is a type of spinal decompression surgery, specifically lumbar decompression.

For more information on what happens during a lumbar laminectomy, or other operations involving your spine, our experienced consultants are here to help. Call us on 0141 300 5009 or book online today and you could have your initial consultation within 48 hours.

Alternatively, keep reading this page for a full rundown of the key elements of a lumbar laminectomy, including how much it costs, causes, how the surgery works, and information about recovery.

The cost of lumbar decompression surgery in the UK will vary depending on various factors, including which hospital you choose and the specific type of decompression surgery you need.

The cost of spinal decompression surgery with Circle Health Group starts from £11,725*

This is a fixed-price package cost, which includes your operation and any aftercare or follow-up appointments you need. It doesn't include the fee for your initial consultation, or any diagnostic tests you have during that appointment.

Spread the cost of your payment

Our flexible payment options help you spread the cost of your payment across a time period that suits you. We offer fixed-term monthly payment plans over one to five years with no deposit required. If you decide to pay over 10 months, you will pay interest-free. If you are paying for a longer period, you will pay 14.9% APR.

Private health insurance

If you have private health insurance, spinal surgery will usually be covered by your provider. Speak to your insurer directly to find out more information on this.

If there is constant pressure on the nerves in your spine, this will likely cause persistent pain and numbness in your legs and lower back, which may mean you can't do certain daily activities and have a lower quality of life. There are several potential causes of nerve compression in your spine that could lead to your consultant recommending a lumbar laminectomy, such as:

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition that develops slowly over time, usually due to osteoarthritis (when the protective tissue that covers your joints gradually wears down, causing pain and stiffness), and leads to the narrowing of one or more spaces in your spine. This reduced space can mean your nerves press against your spinal canal, leading to pain and numbness.

Spinal injuries

If you experience a sudden traumatic blow to your back, maybe through a car accident or fall, there is a chance that one of your vertebrae becomes fractured, dislocated, or crushes. When this happens, the space within your spinal canal may be reduced, leading to nerve compression and subsequent pain.

Slipped disc

A slipped disc (known as a herniated disc) occurs when the soft jelly-like centre of the cushions (discs) that sit between your bones pushes out due to a tear in the rubbery exterior of the disc. This usually happens in your lower back, causing pain and numbness, and can lead to compression of your nerves against your spinal canal due to the damage caused to the cushions that support the shape of your spine.


Sciatica is a reasonably common condition where your sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back to your feet, becomes irritated and/or compressed. It most often occurs when you experience a slipped disc or there's an overgrowth of bone that puts pressure on a part of your nerve.

Metastatic spinal cord compression

If you have cancer - usually in your breast, lung, or prostate - the cells can spread from where they develop and press on your spinal cord, leading to a smaller space through which your nerves can travel. This is known as metastatic spinal cord compression (MSCC), and it occurs in around 10% of people whose cancer has spread to the bones in their spine (spinal metastases).

You may have other conditions and/or symptoms that could make you a candidate for a lumbar laminectomy, such as:

  • Progressive leg weakness
  • Loss of bowel and/or bladder function
  • Trouble walking and/or standing

Your consultant will start off by identifying whether you have any of the conditions that may mean you need a lumbar laminectomy. To do this, they will ask questions about your symptoms, how they started, how long they've gone on for, and if you've had any treatment in the past.

They may also conduct a physical examination, asking you to move your legs in certain positions and checking for where and when you experience pain and/or numbness. To gain a clear understanding of your condition and its severity, they will most likely need to do some imaging tests.


An X-ray provides your consultant with detailed images of the bones in your spine. This allows them to check if you have any bone spurs (bumps that form on your bones) or changes in the size of your bone that might reduce the space within your spinal canal, which could in turn be causing the nerve compression.


Using powerful magnetic fields and radio waves, an MRI scan gives your consultant detailed images of your spinal cord and its surrounding structures, allowing them to see if there’s any damage to your discs or ligaments, along with checking for tumours that may be the cause of your spinal nerve compression.

If scans confirm that you have nerve compression in your lower spine, your consultant will most likely start by prescribing non-surgical treatments. These include anti-inflammatory medications (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc) that relieve pain and swelling, along with physical therapy exercises that strengthen your back. A brace may be given to you to support your back and enable you to do activities more safely.

Should these treatments not make a difference to your symptoms, your consultant may recommend a lumbar laminectomy.

Ahead of your lumbar laminectomy, your consultant will explain the procedure to you and give you any information about how you can best prepare for your operation.

Plan for a hospital stay

Following your lumbar laminectomy, you'll need to stay in hospital for one or two days, so that we can check how you've responded to surgery and provide information about your upcoming exercise plan. So, before coming to hospital, bring anything that might make your stay more comfortable, such as loose-fitting clothing or a laptop/tablet to keep you entertained.

When you're discharged from hospital, it won't be safe for you to drive home or take public transport, so take care to arrange a lift home - either through a friend/family member or a taxi.

Stop smoking

Smoking means that you need more general anaesthetic than normal, which can cause complications. You are also more at risk of breathing and/or heart issues during and/or after surgery if you're a smoker, along with being less likely to recover fully. Ahead of your lumbar laminectomy, therefore, your consultant may recommend that you stop smoking for at least a week before you have your operation.

Discuss medications with your consultant

Any medications that are blood thinners - warfarin, aspirin, anti-inflammatories, etc - can increase the likelihood of unwanted bleeding during and/or after your lumbar laminectomy. If you are on any of these, your consultant may recommend you stop taking them for two weeks before your visit to hospital.

Make your home recovery-friendly

Although you'll be able to walk around soon after your lumbar laminectomy, you'll be encouraged to rest as much as possible and avoid any activities that include bending, stooping, or lifting - particularly for the first several weeks. Ahead of your procedure, then, make sure that you stock up on supplies beforehand so that you don't have to make any additional trips to the shop. Be careful to arrange your recovery space so that everything you need is within easy reach.

Please also think about any tripping hazards in your home. This could be loose flooring, furniture, or general mess. Put away anything that might make you trip when you're recovering after your lumbar laminectomy.

Food and drink

Your consultant may provide some information about proper nutrition prior to your lumbar laminectomy. It is important to eat a healthy balanced diet and drink plenty of water before your procedure. If you are obese, they may recommend that you lose weight, and will give you some safe ways for you to do this in the lead-up to your surgery.

Please avoid alcohol for 48 hours before coming to hospital. And, as always, don't eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your surgery.

A lumbar laminectomy is generally performed under general anaesthesia, which means you'll be asleep for the full procedure and won't feel any pain. It may be done using spinal anaesthesia, so you'll have no feeling from the waist down. Your anaesthetist will speak to you about your options before you go in for surgery.

Generally, your lumbar laminectomy will follow these steps:

  • After being put to sleep under general anaesthetic or given a spinal anaesthetic, you will be positioned either on your side or your belly on the operating table
  • Your surgeon will clean the skin over where they will be operating with an antiseptic solution
  • An incision will be made over the vertebra where there is compression of your spinal cord and its nerves
  • Using specialist surgical instruments, your surgeon spreads the muscles apart to expose your lamina (the arched part of your vertebra that acts as the roof of your spinal canal) and remove it, giving them access your compressed nerve3
  • Your nerve will be gently pulled back towards your spinal column, along with your surgeon removing any other bone spurs and/or ligaments that were pressing against your spinal cord and/or nerves
  • Once sufficient decompression has been achieved, the incision will be closed with stitches or surgical staples, ahead of a sterile bandage being applied to the affected area

In most cases, you should be able to return to your desired mobility and function two months after your lumbar laminectomy. Please note that this is just a general guideline. Your recovery may be quicker or longer, depending on a range of factors, such as:

  • The severity of your lumbar laminectomy
  • Your age
  • Your fitness levels
  • Your everyday activities
  • Your general health
  • What job you do

Recovering in hospital

After waking up from surgery, you'll probably feel quite groggy for a couple hours, but this is normal as your general anaesthetic wears off. We will transfer you to a private room where you'll be able to rest. For the first few hours after your surgery, your nurse will supply you with a drip that keeps fluids going into your vein, a urinary catheter (a flexible tube inserted into your bladder), and a pump that delivers pain relief medication directly into your veins.

You'll most likely be able to get out of bed and walk around on the same day as your surgery. Even so, you'll need to stay with us for a night so that we can check how you've responded to the treatment and give you information about rehabilitation exercises. You may only need to stay for more than one night, depending on how you recover.

Two to seven days

Once you are at home, take care to rest as much as you can and keep the surgical incision area clean and dry at all times. Your stitches will be removed about five days after your surgery, after which you can shower normally. An appointment for this will be arranged by your consultant while you're recovering in hospital.

During this period, you'll probably be in some pain, so take the painkillers that have been prescribed to you whenever necessary. At the same time, you'll be encouraged to follow some gentle physiotherapy exercises that speed up your recovery. You must avoid any lifting or bending movements at all times throughout this early recovery stage.

One to four weeks

If your work only involves sitting and light movements (e.g. typing at a computer), you may be able to go back one or two weeks after your lumbar laminectomy, but this depends on your rate of recovery. Should your work require lifting items or other activities that require physical exertion, you'll need to wait for more like three months before you can resume full activities.

You can return to driving when:

  • You no longer need to take your painkillers, as these can make you drowsy
  • You are comfortable in the driving position
  • You are able to do an emergency stop without experiencing any pain

Generally, it takes two to four weeks to reach this stage.

One to three months

Your physiotherapist will work with you to step up your rehabilitation programme and eventually return to full mobility and function. You may be able to return to full activities like lifting and/or bending after two to three months, with return to low-impact exercises (e.g., stationary bike riding) after around one month.

Non-contact sports of all kinds can usually be resumed after around two months, although you'll need to wait for more like three months before you can do contact and/or high-risk sports and activities. Your physiotherapist will work alongside you every step of the way and tailor your recovery programme to suit the rate at which you're recovering.

Like with any surgery, some complications are possible, but these are extremely rare. Your consultant will talk you through all the risks at your initial consultation and answer any questions you may want to ask about the procedure.

General complications of any operation

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection in the surgical wound
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Blood clots
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Chest infection
  • Heart attack or stroke

Specific complications of a lumbar laminectomy

  • Damage to your nerve tissues
  • Instability in your back
  • Continued leg pain while walking or bending backwards
  • Leaking fluid at the site of your wound
  • Fever
  • Increased pain, numbness, or weakness in your back and/or buttocks
  • Inability to move your legs
  • Inability to pee or control your bladder
  • Severe headaches
  • Shortness of breath

When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can expect:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations tailored to your needs
  • The ability to choose the hospital and consultant that is right for you
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans adapted to your individual preferences 
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private cosy ensuite rooms as standards and delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to learn more about a lumbar laminectomy, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in November 2022. Next review due November 2025.

  1. Lumbar decompression surgery, NHS
  2. Spinal stenosis, Cleveland Clinic
  3. Herniated disc, Mayo Clinic
  4. Laminectomy, John Hopkins
  5. Lumbar laminectomy, Healthline

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