Spinal stenosis in your thoracic region can cause pain and mobility issues. It can also lead to neurological problems including tingling and incontinence if not addressed. Thoracic open laminectomy and fusion could be the solution to your discomfort and spinal stability issues.
What is Thoracic Open Laminectomy and Fusion?
Thoracic open laminectomy and fusion is a surgical procedure that’s used to relieve the narrowing of your spinal canal and the consequent compression of your spinal cord in your thoracic spinal region. This area is located in your upper back – essentially all of the vertebrae that are connected to ribs make up the thoracic portion of your spine.
An open laminectomy involves making an incision over the area of your spine where the affected vertebrae lie. Your surgeon will carefully part the muscles away from the bones of your spine. The laminae are then cut. They help to form the upper “roof” of the spinal canal. Once this section of bone is removed, your surgeon will make sure that your spinal cord is able to function in the newly decompressed space.
To strengthen this area, a spinal fusion surgery may then be performed. This entails that your surgeon uses bone grafts to build a “bridge” of sorts between two or more vertebrae. Once healed this provides stability to the spine. These bone grafts may be followed with rods and screws to help stabilize and provide added strength while the grafts heal. Once both procedures are finished, your surgeon will carefully close the muscles over the spine, providing protection for your spinal cord. Then your skin will be closed with staples, stitches, glue or a combination of these.
Recovery after Thoracic Open Laminectomy and Fusion
Once your surgeon has finished your laminectomy and spinal fusion surgery you will be moved to a recovery ward. Here you’ll be observed as you come up out of anesthesia. Intravenous pain medications will be adjusted as needed to keep you comfortable. Once you are ready you’ll be moved to a room for the rest of your hospital recovery.
You can expect to spend two to three days, on average, in the hospital. During this time you’ll be asked to walk and perform mild exercises to ensure that the surgery is as successful as possible. You’ll also be moved to oral pain medications (typically after the first day).
If all goes according to plan you can go home. Make sure you have someone that can drive you. It is also helpful to arrange to have someone stay with you to carry out daily tasks until you are feeling better. Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet to make sure your body is getting the necessary nutrients for the healing process. Don’t be surprised if you are very tired for the first few days after surgery. This is normal; it takes your body a lot of energy to heal!
Avoid lifting more than five pounds. If you are given a back brace, be sure to wear it as instructed. You should be able to shower as normal but will need to ensure that your incision is carefully patted dry to avoid irritation and infection.
As time progresses you will begin to have more energy and can begin to increase your activity level. Continue to avoid lifting heavy objects, twisting or stooping to help protect your newly-placed grafts and prevent damage to your muscles as they repair themselves.
At around three to six weeks you will return to see your surgeon. At this appointment, you will likely have X-rays to track the progress of the bone grafts and how well they’re healing. Your doctor may allow you to increase your activity level even more and you will be able to return back to work (high-intensity or strenuous jobs may require more recovery time).
Risks of Thoracic Open Laminectomy and Fusion
The risks of thoracic open laminectomy and fusion are not much different from any other spinal surgery. Any surgical procedure carries risks; this just reinforces the importance of working with a highly experienced surgeon.
Some of the risks of thoracic open laminectomy and spinal fusion surgery include:
- Spinal nerve damage
- Loss of sensation in one or more limbs or extremities
- Surgical site infection
- Bowel or bladder incontinence issues
- Bone graft or instrumentation failures
Talk to your surgeon to determine if you’re at higher risk for any of these complications.
Is a Thoracic Open Laminectomy and Fusion Right for Me?
If you’ve been recommended for a thoracic open laminectomy and fusion surgery, you may be in a quandary over whether it’s the right choice for you and your lifestyle. Some reasons you may want to consider this duo of surgeries include:
- If you’re suffering from spinal stenosis due to an injury, congenital defect or other reason, a laminectomy and fusion can afford you the freedom from the pain and immobility that is often found with spinal stenosis.
- A laminectomy with fusion can provide not only the relief you’re looking for, but also stability to an otherwise weak or compromised area of your spine.
- You are experiencing debilitating symptoms due to spinal cord or nerve compression from a narrowing of your spinal canal.
While you are the only person that can decide if a thoracic open laminectomy and fusion is the right treatment choice for you, your surgeon can help guide you. Don’t wait any longer-you deserve to live a full, pain-free life!