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If your doctor has recommended you undergo a cervical laminectomy for your Chiari malformation, learning more about what to expect can help you be more comfortable with your upcoming treatment. Reading through the following information will give you an overview of the procedure itself, how it helps provide relief from your Chiari malformation symptoms and prevent further damage, as well as what you can expect before and after your procedure.

What Is Chiari Malformation?

One way to better understand your upcoming procedure is to learn about how your Chiari malformation formed and how it relates to your body’s anatomy. As your body grows before birth, your brain and skull form together in such a way that they fit together just right. This is why your bony skull is an effective protector of the delicate brain.

However, if the bones of the skull do not grow large enough, there will not be enough room for the brain. In a Chiari malformation, the back of the skull is too small for the entire brain to fit as it should, and an area at the back (the cerebellum) is pushed down through the foramen magnum. This is a hole at the base of the skull where the blood vessels and spinal cord pass through, and the section of the brain displaced through is called the cerebellar tonsils.

Problems can arise if the cerebellar tonsils block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) through the foramen magnum or if they press on the spinal cord. This is what leads to the symptoms you are experiencing and the reason your doctor has recommended a cervical laminectomy.

What Is a Cervical Laminectomy for Chiari Malformation?

During a cervical laminectomy, the surgeon removes a small section of your uppermost (cervical) vertebra to increase the space for the spinal cord. Recall that sometimes a Chiari malformation may be impinging on the spinal cord, which can cause damage and lead to symptoms. By relieving this pressure on the spinal cord, the surgeon can help provide relief and prevent any further damage from occurring.

A cervical laminectomy is often performed in conjunction with other procedures, such as Chiari decompression surgery. These procedures are completed during the same surgery, which your doctor will discuss with you in further detail if it is part of your treatment plan.

What Can You Expect Before Surgery?

In the days before your surgery, you may be required to make modifications to any medications you are taking. It’s important that you follow these instructions exactly and do not change any of your dosing without first consulting your physician. Be sure you let your doctor know of everything you are taking, including over-the-counter medications and supplements, so he or she can give you accurate instructions.

Because you will be under general anesthesia during your procedure, you will also likely be given restrictions on eating and drinking before you arrive at the hospital. These are for your safety and comfort, and it is imperative you do exactly as your doctor instructs. If you need liquid to take medications, be sure to ask your doctor for clarification beforehand.

What Can You Expect the Day of Surgery?

On the day of your surgery, you will need to arrive 1-2 hours before the procedure itself so you have time to check in and get settled in your room. Wear comfortable clothing and be sure to bring along anything you may need during your stay.

During the procedure, you will be asleep to ensure you are as comfortable as possible. Once the surgery is complete, you will be taken to an intensive care unit, where your healthcare team will monitor your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Once your doctor has determined your body is stabilized, you will be transferred to your room to begin your recovery.

What Can You Expect Following Surgery?

Immediately after your surgery, you can expect to spend approximately one week recovering in the hospital. However, this can vary depending on your individual condition and any other procedures you may have scheduled. During your stay, your doctor will monitor you for the appearance of any complications and assess your change in symptoms.

Many patients experience some form of symptom relief immediately after the procedure, though the amount will vary from patient to patient. Keep in mind that it can take up to a year for symptoms to resolve, and some patients may require physical therapy in the months following Chiari malformation surgery. By working with a compassionate and supportive doctor, he or she can help you through your recovery, which is going to be a very individual process.

Knowledge Provides Peace of Mind

Now that you have a better understanding of your upcoming cervical laminectomy for your Chiari malformation, you can rest easier and have confidence in your doctor’s recommendation. You know more about your Chiari malformation and how it developed, and you can now see how and why a cervical laminectomy will help prevent further damage and provide relief.

This knowledge is a powerful tool and will help give you peace of mind through your treatment and recovery process. Carry the information you’ve learned here into your next appointment with your doctor and bring up any questions you may still have. He or she will take care to discuss any concerns you have prior to your procedure and work with you every step of the way.

Chiari malformation treatments