Cervical Disc Replacement Recovery

Compared to cervical spinal fusion surgery, cervical disc replacement recovery is generally faster; however, recovery does take a few weeks. We review the most important information you need to know about the time course of recovery, how to make the most of recovery time, and how to achieve the best outcomes.


What Determines Recovery Time?

Cervical disc replacement recovery is the time that your body heals and becomes its new self. Recovery time varies, but the faster your body can heal, the faster your recovery will be. Keeping your body well-hydrated and well-nourished gives your cells and tissues the building blocks they need to restore you to top health. Recovery also depends on avoiding the things that can delay recovery like smoking cigarettes or putting unnecessary stresses on your neck. Self-care is perhaps the most critical determinant of recovery time. The better you are to your body, the faster it will heal.


Cervical ADR Recovery Timeline

The day of cervical ADR surgery.

You will be moved to a post-anesthesia care unit before you even wake from surgery. Staff will make sure you are breathing normally and your pain is well-controlled. Some people experience some difficulty with swallowing, but this is usually short-lived and will be managed by professionals. This is done in an outpatient setting for the vast majority of patients and most patients are sent home about 4-6 hours after the surgery.


The first day at home.

Although some surgeons ask that you wear a cervical collar for a few days after cervical artificial disc replacement. I do not usually recommend a collar. Most patients are given a collar to wear when driving or riding in a car. This helps to keep your neck stable and your surgical wound protected. If you experience pain after surgery, this is the time it can be at its most intense. Remember, it is easier to keep pain away than it is to get rid of it once it occurs. So, make sure to take your pain medication as prescribed.


The first week after cervical ADR.

If you experience any pain after spine surgery, it should get better by degrees during the first week of recovery. You should not submerge your surgical wound under water as this could increase the risk of infection. However, keeping the area clean and replacing the dressing as directed are important parts of the recovery process. Remember to avoid lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk during this time. If you must go anywhere, make sure someone else is driving if you’re still taking pain medicine. If you are not on pain medication it is usually safe to drive yourself.


The second week after cervical ADR.

This week is the most difficult to predict. If you are on a quick healing course, your discomfort will be minimal during this week, you will regain your energy, and you will want to get up and about. As long as it is permitted by your surgeon, you can begin to perform light activities during the second week of recovery. Some patients are even able to return to desk work by the end of the second week. If you are on a slower path, listen to your body and take it slow.


Weeks 3 to 4 after cervical ADR.

Your spine surgeon may want you to come in for a wound check at 10-14 days after surgery. By the third week, almost all patients are able to stop taking the pain medications they were prescribed on the day of surgery. Also, the surgical wound should be well healed (there may be a small scar). Your spine surgeon will assess how your spine is healing through history, physical examination, and sometimes new imaging studies (e.g., X-rays of the neck). At your first follow-up visit, remember to ask your spine surgeon when you can add back in your regular activities. Your success in recovery up to this point can help your surgeon decide what level of work and activity are right for you. At this point, most people with desk jobs are back to work, but those with jobs that require physical labor with high effort may be off the job for six weeks. Driving and bathing are usually permitted during this time. If your surgeon recommends physical therapy, take advantage of this important resource because it can improve your overall recovery and long-term function.


Weeks 5 to 6 after cervical ADR.

You will likely be able to return to most regular activities at this point. If you like to jog, swim, or play golf, you should be able to resume these activities by 6 weeks (with your surgeon’s permission). Contact sports are a separate matter, however. Decisions about sports like football, hockey, and even basketball are made on a case-by-case basis. That said, most people can return to full activities at home and at work by the end of the sixth week of cervical disc replacement recovery.


How to Speed Up Recovery (Tips for Healing Faster)

Cervical disc replacement recovery time varies from person to person, but there are five ways you can help decrease your personal recovery time.

  1. Take care of your physical health. Your body needs to repair itself after artificial cervical disc replacement surgery. Make sure you give your body the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs to do its job. This means getting a healthy diet of lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. If you suspect it will be difficult to get all of the nutrition you need from diet alone, consider a multivitamin during cervical disc replacement recovery. Make sure to stop smoking and drinking alcohol before and after your surgery, and if you have diabetes, keep your blood sugars under control. Nerve healing is significantly impaired by alcohol.
  2. Take care of your mental health. We are continually learning about new ways the body and brain interact. A recent randomized controlled clinical trial showed that mindfulness-based stress reduction reduced post-operative pain and improved joint function after arthroplasty. You should anticipate that you will not be able to return to full activity right away after surgery, so make sure you have a variety of stimulating or relaxing activities available during recovery.
  3. Take care of your surgical site. Your spine surgeon will provide instructions about how to care for your surgical site. Surgical infections can delay healing and can even require re-operation in extreme cases. You can make your recovery faster by avoiding surgery site infections through frequent bandage changes and good wound hygiene. You may shower the first few days after surgery, but gently cleaning around the wound with mild soap and warm water is encouraged. After a few days you can shower, but no bathing!
  4. Get the right amount of physical activity. For several days after surgery, your cervical spine will heal fastest if it can be held in a neutral position without extension, i.e., bending the neck to look up. However, your neck muscles will heal fastest if they can maintain strength and flexibility. So, when you are specifically permitted to do so, perform your neck exercises as instructed by your surgeon or physical therapist. These neck exercises can actually help you have better neck mobility and functional outcomes.
  5. Choose an experienced spine surgeon. A skilled surgeon can make a difference when it comes to cervical disc replacement recovery time. Spine surgeons who have performed many artificial disc replacements tend to be able to perform the procedure faster, more precisely, and with fewer complications and less tissue disruption. In short, the better the cervical disc replacement was performed, the faster the recovery.


Pain After Cervical Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery (And How to Treat It)

It is normal to feel a bit of discomfort after surgery. You may need to take opioid medications for a few days after surgery to manage pain. Some people may need to take opioids for up to a week after cervical artificial disc replacement surgery, but if you are experiencing severe pain for longer than this, it is important to call your surgeon for an evaluation. Pain should improve over the first few days such that you can switch to acetaminophen or NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen. Most people no longer need any pain medications 10 to 14 days after cervical artificial disc replacement surgery. Some patients have persistent or delayed onset of nerve pain. This type of pain is best treated with a different type of medication that is not an opioid.


Life After Cervical Disc Replacement

The typical goals of cervical artificial disc replacement are to reduce neck and arm pain and to relieve symptoms like numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arm. Fortunately, cervical artificial disc replacement has a high degree of success in achieving these goals. Over time you should notice that you are able to do the things you once enjoyed with minimal to no pain. However, spinal fusion surgery can provide the same symptom relief. The true advantage of the cervical artificial disc replacement is neck mobility and flexibility. Life after cervical disc replacement is often highly active and enjoyable. Freedom from substantial pain and restored neck mobility allow patients to regain most or all of the function they had once lost.