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What is on your mind?

If you’ve committed to having anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery, you may have dozens of questions regarding your recovery time or even be tempted to back out of surgery altogether. However, you will likely find that the recovery process is a much better option than coping with the ongoing pain.

Incision Care

Typically, you will have absorbable stitches. This means that they slowly dissolve on their own. Usually, the incision is held together by tiny strips of tape. This permits air to reach the area while holding the wound closed and allowing it to heal. Don’t remove the bandages; just let them fall off on their own.

If the incision site gets wet during a shower or bath, simply use a clean, dry towel to blot the area dry. It is normal for the wound to drain a bit, but if the drainage is tinged with blood for more than 48 hours, contact your physician. A bandage that is soiled or saturated should be changed often to keep the wound dry and clean.

Personal Hygiene

You can bathe yourself, but take showers instead of baths for the first two weeks. Getting in and out of a bathtub can put unnecessary stress on your neck or back. A shower seat is a smart idea, particularly if you feel lightheaded during the first few days.

You should be able to dress yourself without any difficulties, but if buttoning or zipping a particular shirt or dress causes you discomfort, ask someone for assistance.

Nutrition

It is important during the recovery process to eat well-balanced meals with a focus on extra protein. This helps fuse the vertebrae together and is particularly important to your health and recovery during the first four months.

Some foods that are rich in protein are meats, eggs and dairy. If your diet doesn’t supply adequate protein for the fusion, your body will take it from your muscles. This can leave you feeling tired and listless.

After surgery, your appetite may be poor for several days; if so, take a multivitamin to ensure you get the nutrients your body needs.

When Can You Drive?

Most patients can drive within 7 to 14 days after the surgery, unless they are wearing a brace. Often, a brace is not necessary, although some doctors recommend wearing a soft collar to help with comfort.

If you do wear a collar, don’t attempt to drive until the doctor gives you the okay. Collars make it difficult to turn your neck or your body, so it’s nearly impossible to safely navigate turns.

Adverse Effects of Medications

Some drugs are taboo for the fusion patient, and it is vital that you avoid them for at least six weeks. Certain medications, such as Aleve, Motrin, aspirin and Ibuprofen products can delay proper bone fusion. Your doctor may recommend you avoid other medications as well.

Tobacco Use

Even if you don’t smoke tobacco products, being around others who do can be detrimental to the success of your spinal fusion. Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke for at least six months or until your surgeon deems it safe. This is an opportune time to quit the habit, too.

Concerns About the Metal

Don’t worry about setting off metal detectors or being unable to have an MRI in the future. Generally, the instruments used in the fusion surgery are made of titanium, and this won’t set off the metal detectors.  They are also usually MRI compatible. As with any metallic implant, however, check with your doctor beforehand.

Physical Activity

Expect to pamper yourself and to move a bit more slowly during your six week recovery period, particularly with your neck movements. Avoid any jerky, repetitive or sudden movements. Remember, it takes several weeks for the soft tissues, muscles and stitches in your body to heal.

Walking is an excellent exercise during this recuperative period. Just remember to do it one step at a time and rest when necessary. Swimming is also a good exercise for patients during the first six weeks, but avoid using strokes that involve turning the neck repetitively, and don’t jump, flip or dive until you are at least 12 weeks post-op.

Climbing ladders and similar activities are forbidden for post-op patients until after the six week recovery time. However, it is okay to engage in daily tasks like washing your face or brushing your teeth, even if you need to lean over the sink for a few moments.

What Can I Lift?

Refrain from lifting anything over approximately eight pounds – this is comparable to lifting a gallon of milk from the refrigerator. Follow this rule for the first six weeks after surgery. Also, avoid reaching over your head; ask someone for assistance if you need items stored above your chest level. Taking these precautions helps prevent you from straining your body or reopening the wound. Another exercise to avoid is sit-ups. Don’t do these until your physician gives you permission, as this activity can put unnecessary strain on the neck area.

Rehabilitation

Typically, your surgeon will have you begin physical therapy while you are recuperating. He or she may schedule this as soon as you are one month post-op or up to 12 weeks after surgery. These exercises will help restore your flexibility, strength and also reduce the fatigue that many people experience after surgery.

Follow Up Care

Your surgeon will schedule a few follow up visits during your recovery. X-rays taken during these office visits help the doctor determine if the fusion is mending well. Please don’t neglect or cancel your follow up care, even if you feel fantastic. It is vitally important that the surgeon monitor your progress during the recovery.
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