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    What is a Laminectomy?

    Laminectomy (spine decompression) is a surgical procedure performed to remove pressure on the spinal cord or nerve root(s). The term laminectomy comes from the Latin words lamina (bony roof of the spinal canal) and ectomy (removal). Removing the lamina widens the space of the spinal cord or nerve root(s) and therefore relieves symptoms related to compression and irritation of the spinal cord or nerve root(s). These symptoms may include pain and/or numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness.

    Sources of spinal cord or nerve root(s) compression such as herniated disc, bone spurs (arthritis), ligament build-up, or tumor may be removed during this procedure. A laminectomy may be performed in different regions of the spine, cervical (neck), thoracic (mid back), and lumbar (low back).

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    Pre-Register for Surgery

    Pre-registration is a two-step process that you must complete before having a surgery, test, or procedure at California Pacific Medical Center.

    1. Health History. Please call (415) 600-2500 within 1- 2 weeks before your procedure to speak with a Pre-admission Testing nurse who will take your health history, answer your questions, and explain what testing is necessary before your surgery, test, or procedure.

      Based on your health status, the nurse may send you to complete any required testing before you come to the hospital. The nurse will tell you where you can go for your test(s).
    2. Pre-Registration. The nurse will connect you to the Patient Access Center to complete the pre-registration process. Please be sure to have your insurance card information ready when you begin.

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    How Do I Prepare for Surgery?

    • Do not eat or drink anything within 6 hours of your surgery, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. However, you may continue to take your routine medications, such as heart and blood pressure medications, with only a sip of water.

    • Consult with your surgeon if you are taking blood-thinning medications, NSAIDs, or Insulin. Examples include Coumadin (Warfarin), Plavix (Clopidogrel) and Aspirin; Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as Motrin (Ibuprofen), Aleve (Naproxen), Feldene (Piroxicam); or Insulin.

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    What Can I Expect During My Hospital Stay?

    • Expect to stay about 1-3 days in the hospital.

    • You will receive pain medication through the vein immediately following your surgery. Within a day or two, as the pain decreases, you will receive oral pain medication.

    • Ask the nurse for pain medication 1 hour before beginning physical activities so that you will be able to get in and out of bed and walk with minimal discomfort.

    • You will be encouraged to breathe deeply and turn in bed to prevent a lung infection after surgery.

    • You will learn how to turn in bed using a logrolling technique (move your whole body as a unit from side to side without twisting the spine).

    • Nurses and therapists will assist you with getting in and out of bed and walking. You will be encouraged to walk in your room or for a short distance the evening of your surgery. Gradually, your activity will be increased to include walking in the hallway.

    • Physical and occupational therapists will assist you with proper bed mobility, transfers, walking, body mechanics, bathing and dressing techniques, and safety training.

    • Speak with your surgeon’s office about the timing of your first post-operative office visit.

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    Preparing to Go Home

    How to Care for Your Incision and Dressing

    • Keep your dressing dry and clean for 7 days after surgery to prevent infection.

    • You may take a sponge bath until your sutures are removed.

    • You may shower if you cover the incision with plastic wrap to keep it dry.

    • Steri-Strips® (incision tapes) may be removed 7-10 days after surgery. Staples or sutures may be removed 7-14 days after surgery during your first doctor visit.

    • Incision and dressing care may vary from patient to patient, please make sure you understand your surgeon’s instructions before you leave the hospital.

    Know Your Proper Body Mechanics and Activity Restrictions

    • No bending or twisting of your back. Keep your back straight and bend your knees using your thigh muscles.

    • No sitting in soft chairs or sofas that allow your back to curve. Limit your time sitting in a chair since sitting may cause discomfort. Sit and stand straight.

    • No jogging. Frequent short walks are better than long walks.

    • No lifting, no housework, no yard work during the 1st month or until allowed by your doctor.

    • Sleep on a firm bed.

    Follow the Guidelines for Physical Activity After Surgery

    • Gradually increase your physical activity by alternating activity with rest periods.

    • Plan for short walks with rest periods.

    • Progressively increase your walking distance on a daily basis.

    • Start your exercises only when you have been instructed by your surgeon.

    • Begin your physical therapy program as ordered by your surgeon.

    • In general, sexual activity may be resumed in a few weeks after surgery within the bounds of your comfort. Consult with your surgeon.

    • Discuss returning to work during your doctor’s appointment.

    Manage Your Pain

    • Your pain level may change from day to day and throughout the day. Pace your activities according to your level of discomfort. Plan for adequate rest periods.

    • If you are feeling a moderate amount of pain, do less, and allow for more rest periods. Complete healing may require many months. Do not jeopardize your recovery by being over-active too soon.

    • Adequate pain control is important to healing. Your surgeon will prescribe pain medication such as Norco or Vicodin (Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen), Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as Motrin (Ibuprofen).
      Note: Do not drive a car if you are taking narcotics or muscle relaxants. These drugsaffect your judgment and reaction time.

    • Some patients experience mild episodes of muscle spasms in the back and legs (after low back surgery) or in the neck and arms (after neck surgery). Heat/ice packs or muscle relaxants can be used to lessen the discomfort.

    • If you have neck surgery without bone fusion, you may use a soft collar as needed for comfort during the day for 1-2 weeks if approved by your doctor.

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    When to Call Your Doctor

    Call Your Doctor if You Have:

    • If you feel warm or chilled, take your temperature. Call your doctor with a temperature of 101°F / 38.5°C or above.

    • Increasing redness and swelling at the incision site.

    • Changes in the amount, appearance, or odor of drainage from your incision.

    • New or increased changes in sensation/presence of numbness in your extremities.

    • Severe pain that is not relieved by medication and rest.

    • Questions or problems not covered by these instructions.

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    More Ways to Learn

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    Question: What is a laminectomy?
    Answer: Laminectomy is a surgical procedure performed to remove pressure on the spinal cord or nerve root(s).

    Question: How do I care for my incision after surgery?
    Answer: For detailed instructions on caring for your incision, please refer to the section, How to Care for Your Incision and Dressing, above.

    Question: What are the guidelines for physical activity following surgery?
    Answer: Do not jeopardize your recovery by being over-active too soon. Please refer to the section, Follow the Guidelines for Physical Activity After Surgery, above.

    Produced by the staff and physicians at California Pacific Medical Center in association with the Center for Patient and Community Education. Last updated: 03/15

    Note: This information is not meant to replace any information or personal medical advice which you get directly from your doctor(s). If you have any questions about this information, such as the risks or benefits of the treatment listed, please ask your doctor(s).
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