You can expect it can take several months to fully recover from cervical surgery, although for some patients it is easier than it is for others. The recovery time can depend on a variety of factors. Including the extent of your abnormalities that caused the compression, your activity level, and age, as well as your overall health. Any surgery you have can come with a challenging recovery process, but having some guidance can help improve your recovery from cervical surgery.
Have you or someone you know has been dealing with chronic pain for several months and will be having cervical surgery? If you said yes, then, this guide is for you.
Explaining Cervical Surgery
Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) is a neck surgery that removed your damaged disc to relieve your spinal cord or your nerve root pressure to alleviate pain, weakness, and tingling. There are two parts to cervical surgery.
Anterior Cervical Discectomy: This part of the surgery is through the anterior or front, of the cervical spine (neck). The disc is removed between two vertebral bones.
Fusion: The fusion surgery is done at the same time as the discectomy to stabilize the cervical segment. The process involves placing a bone graft and/or implants where the disc originally was to provide stability and strength.
Cervical surgery is a major surgery that can be used to treat chronic pain for:
- Cervical Herniated Disc
- Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease
- Osteophytes (bone spurs)
- Cervical Spine Stenosis
Guide to Post Cervical Surgery
Be sure you keep in mind that the deep stitches, muscles and other soft tissues will take at least 6 weeks to heel. As a result, your neck movement should be limited to avoid damaging the results from your surgery. It’s acceptable to sit, stand, walk as well as lay down post cervical surgery. You can also still brush your teeth, get dressed and wash up, but be sure to take it slow. You will want to avoid repetitive and sudden movements after your cervical surgery.
Most of your wounds will be closed with stitches, generally, they will be absorbable stitches that will not need to be removed. If absorbable stitches are used, then the strips will fall off on their own. If your wound gets wet, you will want to pat it dry with a clean towel. You may also see bloody drainage, and the dressing should be changed frequently. If you experience drainage for more than a could of days, or see signs of infection, be sure yo contact your surgeon right away.
The maximum amount you should lift after cervical surgery is 8 pounds, which is how much a gallon of milk weighs. When you are lifting, keep the items close to your body. You will need to avoid any heavy lifting and reaching over your head for the first 6 weeks.
During the first 6 weeks after cervical surgery, it’s recommended to walk on level ground. After this, you may want to use swimming for additional physical activity, but avoid any neck turning for the first 3 months. You should also avoid diving, flips, jumping and kick turns if you chose to swim. Another form of activity you can include after 6 weeks is a stationary bike, regular bike, weight machines, elliptical machines, and a stair climber. Sit-ups should be avoided after your surgeon or physical therapist advise you otherwise. If you enjoy biking, check out Protecting your Back and Neck while Biking.
You should avoid taking a bath during the first 2 weeks as it placed stress on your neck when you enter and exit the tub. Only showers should be taken during the first 2 weeks following your cervical surgery. It’s also recommended to use a shower-seat as it decreases your chances of slipping and falling.
Pain Pills and Medications
The fusion process is adversely affected by certain medications, so unless absolutely necessary, they should not be taken for at least 6 months following surgery. These include oral cortisone preparations, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, Aleve, aspirin, Motrin and Advil. You may require narcotic medications for up to a few weeks after cervical surgery. These medications should be weaned as the pain diminishes.
Nutrition plays an important part in your recovery following cervical surgery. In order for your bones to grow and create a solid fusion, it requires a lot of protein. The fusion can only get protein from 2 sources: food and drinks, or from the breakdown of muscles into protein-forming building blocks. If you do not provide the fusion with adequate protein yourself, in the form of food and drinks, it will rob your muscles of the protein it needs to function, and your fatigue will increase. Because of this, during the first 4 months post your cervical surgery you should increase your protein intake. Here’s a list of protein-rich foods:
- Dairy Products
- Red Meats
Having an overall balanced diet will help with your recovery.
Following your cervical surgery, don’t expect to drive for 1 to 2 weeks. If you are required to wear a hard neck brace, you can expect this time period to be much longer. Turning your neck will be strenuous, and turning your body, instead, can be dangerous.
Due to the advancements in technologic instrumentation systems, there generally isn’t a need for a neck brace. However, if your surgeon gives you a neck collar to wear post you cervical surgery, you will want to remove it when you sleep and shower. Soft neck braces are typically worn for comfort in the first week. Whereas a hard neck brace provides more support and can be worn for 4 to 12 weeks.
Follow Up Visits
You should expect your surgeon to request a number of follow-up visits following your cervical surgery. They will assess your progress, as well as take and review x-rays of the fusion. Be sure to keep your appointments or if you have to miss one, be sure to reschedule.
Anywhere from 1 month to 3 months after your cervical surgery, you should expect to start physical therapy. You will start with stretching exercises to promote flexibility. This is commonly followed by an aerobic exercise to help improve body conditioning. The therapist will also add resistance training with weights to improve your strength and stability. You can expect physical therapy to last 6 to 12 weeks, but keeping an ongoing program is key to maximize your results.
If you are a cigarette smoker, you should know that smoking is detrimental to your fusion, and prevents its formation. Cigarette smoking, and second-hand smoke, is not permitted until your surgeon tells you that your fusion is solid. This rarely occurs before 6 months after cervical surgery.
We hope this cervical surgery guide has been useful for you and your recovery. You may also want to check out Tips on dealing with a stiff neck for ongoing preventative neck care.
Come See Us At The Spine Institute Northwest!
At the Spine Institute Northwest, we want to help make you more mobile this New Year! Conveniently located in the Seattle area, our team of dedicated surgeons is available to guide you to a more mobile life!
Contact us today at (888) 712-0318, or visit our site to set an appointment for a free MRI review. We offer the total care package that allows us to make a personalized plan to make you ready for summer activities!
Don’t Wait, Get Back Your Life! Call the Spine Institute Northwest today!