While most patients who have artificial cervical disc replacement can go home on the same day of surgery, cervical disc replacement recovery time may take several weeks. If you are considering surgery, you should be aware of what is involved in the recovery process. In this article, we explain what you need to know to for about cervical disc replacement recovery.
Cervical disc replacement is now an outpatient procedure for most patients, which means you will likely be able to go home the same day as your artificial disc replacement surgery. Be aware, however, that the day you go home is when your cervical disc replacement recovery time starts.
Your activity will be fairly limited during the first several days of cervical disc replacement recovery, which means you shouldn’t drive if taking pain medications or lift anything heavier than ten to fifteen pounds. Normal walking is excellent and even encouraged as soon as possible after cervical disc replacement, but nothing more rigorous than that.
Two weeks after cervical artificial disc replacement, you will meet with your spine surgeon. He will assess your wound healing. If everything is going well, you can resume light activities. You should be able to return to office work, though it’s possible to take up to four weeks after surgery.
Your physical therapy will start four to eight weeks after surgery. During PT, you will gain strength, stability, mobility, flexibility, and stamina.
If you have a job that requires physical labor, be sure to plan for several weeks off of the job. The earliest that patients with physically demanding jobs can return to work is about 6 weeks after cervical artificial disc replacement surgery but possibly as long as 8 - 10 weeks.
Most people will be able to return to their normal activities between 6 - 12 weeks of cervical disc replacement recovery time.
Cervical disc replacement recovery time can proceed rather quickly in people who are generally healthy and in reasonably good shape prior to surgery. That being said, the time it takes to recover from cervical disc replacement surgery can be prolonged if one or more of these factors are present:
Smoking. Smoking is associated with surgical site infection and increases the risk for lung complications. Nicotine reduces bone strength and healing,1 so it may slow the rate at which bone integrates with the artificial disc.
Physical inactivity. Surgery is a stress on the body. People who are more physically fit are able to recover from physical stresses more quickly.
Older age. The speed at which we heal slows as we age, sadly. Chronic disease. Diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune disorders, and diseases that suppress the immune system can extend cervical disc replacement recovery time.
Poor nutrition. The body needs a steady supply of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals to heal properly. Lack of any of these substances slows down healing.
Medications. Corticosteroids, i.e., glucocorticoids like prednisone, can inhibit bone healing.
One aspect of cervical disc replacement recovery many patients find confusing is physical activity—some activities are forbidden while other activities are encouraged. Your goal should be to stay active but to also protect your neck from strain. One of the best ways to strike the right balance is to do plenty of causal walking. Casual walking works your body’s muscles, slightly elevates your heart rate, expands your lungs, and promotes healing. On the other hand, avoid the following activities until you have been medically cleared to do them (usually two to four weeks after cervical disc replacement surgery):
Running, aerobics, or sports. While walking is good for cervical disc replacement recovery, jogging, running, or other high-impact cardio is not.
Driving. Driving is usually forbidden during the first two weeks after cervical disc replacement surgery.
Lifting. You should not lift anything heavier than 5 or 10 pounds during the first two weeks after surgery. Over time and as you heal, you will be able to lift heavier objects.
Excessive or rapid neck movements. Ideally, you would keep your head in a neutral position to heal most quickly. In practice, this can be difficult. Ask your surgeon if you might benefit from wearing a soft neck collar during cervical disc replacement recovery.
Baths and whirlpools. You can clean the surgical wound with moist, clean towels; however, do not bathe, swim, or use a hot tub until the skin has completed healed.
Always follow your discharge instructions, and ask your surgeon and/or physical therapist what physical activities are safe or unsafe for your stage of cervical disc replacement recovery
Be aware that you will likely be prescribed opioid medications and may be sent home with some opioid pills initially. Opioids are helpful at relieving moderate to severe pain when used for a short period of time. Once the initial discomfort has passed, you will be transitioning to acetaminophen (Tylenol) and/or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen. While patients who have spinal fusion surgery should usually avoid NSAIDs, these pain relivers may be okay after artificial disc replacement surgery—ask your spine surgeon. In some instances, your surgeon may prescribe muscle relaxers.
The old, conventional wisdom was that patients should stay in bed for several days after surgery. In almost all cases, complete bedrest after surgery is a bad idea. The best way to recover after cervical artificial disc replacement is to alternate between light activity and rest. Starting the day of surgery (or the day after surgery), try to go for a walk around your home or yard at least every four hours. In the days after cervical artificial disc replacement, try to increase the time you spend walking.
That being said, the body needs sleep to help it recover. Ideally, you should get seven to eight hours of uninterrupted each night. Sleep can be hard to come by when you are uncomfortable, so make sure to take pain medication before going to sleep.
While it may seem surprising, it is best to allow your surgical wound to be opened to air. In fact, you may be allowed to remove your bandage on the first day after surgery. If you do decide to wear a bandage, it should be changed at least once a day or any time it gets soiled or wet. Most patients can shower 48 hours after surgery. Try to avoid direct shower spray on the wound in the early days of healing. While the surgical wound can get wet, if it does, it should be dried thoroughly as soon as the shower is finished.
Most patients will return to see their spine surgeon at regular intervals after cervical artificial disc replacement. The first follow-up appointment usually happens one to two weeks after surgery. However, certain events may be a medical emergency or a sign that healing is not going smoothly.
If you experience any of the following during cervical disc replacement recovery, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention:
You hear an odd sound in your throat/chest during breathing
New numbness or tingling
New muscle weakness Loss of bladder control
Loss of bowel control
Severe pain (especially a new pain)
Sensitivity to light
If you experience any of the following during cervical disc replacement recovery, contact your spine surgeon as soon as possible:
Fever, chills, or other signs of systemic infection
Redness, swelling, warmth around the surgical wound, or other signs of local infection
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