What Is the Difference between a Discectomy and a Laminectomy?

Lee Johnson

The difference between a discectomy and a laminectomy is the part of the spine that the operation is concerned with. Both operations are done to relieve pain associated with trapped spinal nerves, but a discectomy is an operation on the spinal discs, and a laminectomy is an operation on the arched portion of the vertebrae of the spine. The difference between a discectomy and a laminectomy is important, as the wrong operation may fail to alleviate the pain that a patient is experiencing.

Laminectomy and discectomy procedures are performed on different parts of the spine.
Laminectomy and discectomy procedures are performed on different parts of the spine.

The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae, which are either stacked together or fused. The fused portions of the spine make up the sacrum and the coccyx, and the remaining 24 vertebrae are stacked up. Inside the vertebrae, the spinal cord stretches down from the brain to the lower, lumbar region. At this point, the spinal cord splits off into collections of nerves, some of which go into the body through gaps in the spinal vertebrae. Between each vertebra are discs, which serve as cushions for when the spine is bent or twisted. These discs also keep the space between the vertebrae open so that nerves can pass through unharmed.

Discectomy and laminectomy procedures are both done to relieve pain associated with trapped spinal nerves.
Discectomy and laminectomy procedures are both done to relieve pain associated with trapped spinal nerves.

Over time, the discs that sit between the vertebrae can slip out of position or degrade. Bone spurs can also form in the vertebrae, pressing on the sensitive nerves. If the disc slips out of place, the soft center section can press on the nerves and cause pain in the legs and back. If the disc degrades, the openings that the nerves come through can get smaller and cause the nerve to become compressed. The difference between these two events is the source of the difference between a discectomy and a laminectomy.

Bone spurs may cause back pain.
Bone spurs may cause back pain.

A laminectomy is a procedure whereby a portion of the vertebra known as the lamina is removed. The lamina is the arched portion of the vertebra. In a laminectomy, the surgeon removes the portion of the bone that is causing the nerve to be compressed. It is also common for a laminectomy to remove a portion of a disc or a tumor that is causing the pain in the nerve.

The presence of bone spurts may narrow a person's spinal canal.
The presence of bone spurts may narrow a person's spinal canal.

A discectomy operation is used when a disc has slipped, and the central portion is pressing on a nerve. The soft center of the disc is removed, but the firm outer portion is left alone. A discectomy and a laminectomy are two different operations that were originally the same procedure. Originally, laminectomies were used for both problems. Today, a discectomy removes part of the disc, while a laminectomy removes part of the lamina.

The spinal cord stretches down from the brain to the lumbar region.
The spinal cord stretches down from the brain to the lumbar region.
Patients undergo discectomy surgery to correct a herniated disc that might pinch the sciatic nerve.
Patients undergo discectomy surgery to correct a herniated disc that might pinch the sciatic nerve.
Pain that occurs a result of a slipped disc may be mistaken for pain radiating from an internal organ.
Pain that occurs a result of a slipped disc may be mistaken for pain radiating from an internal organ.
Nerve pain may require surgical intervention.
Nerve pain may require surgical intervention.

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