Most patients who have a laminectomy will recover normal function within a year of surgery although healing time varies. Many factors influence recovery including general health, complications of surgery, the success of the procedure, further trauma, medications, and activities such as smoking or drinking alcohol. Following the guidelines as laid out by the surgeon for post-operative care is imperative to effect a positive rehabilitation. Physical therapy, involving gentle stretching and strengthening exercises is commenced after a rest period in most patients, and narcotic pain medication can help during the first few weeks after surgery. Most patients will be unable to use NSAIDs for at least six months if they have had a bone graft as this can affect the success rate of fusion.
For patients suffering neurological claudication from spinal stenosis as their major symptom, a laminectomy with fusion is a highly effective treatment for spinal stenosis with symptoms relieved rapidly after surgery and continuing benefit experienced. Chen (2009) observed an average 62.4% improvement in neurological symptoms of patients undergoing this procedure. If fusion is not performed then the spine may, however, become unstable, with further fusion surgery required at a later date. Patients with existing spinal curvature (kyphosis) may be recommended to undergo a different cervical surgical procedure as a laminectomy may not be the most appropriate operation (Houten, 2003). Most patients will experience some improvement in spinal cord function, with healthier nerve signal transmission, improved walking and general mobility of the limbs, improvements in fine motor skills, and a reduction in neck pain and numbness.
The extent of the recovery depends enormously on the severity of the damage that occurred prior to surgery, as a patient who has lost a lot of sensation, or all sensation in a limb, for example, may find that the numbness remains in part after surgery as the nerve has been permanently damaged by the cervical spinal stenosis. Surgery is considered a success if it prevents an escalation in symptoms due to decompression, even if the symptoms themselves do not necessarily improve.
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