If you’ve made the decision to have a cervical disc arthroplasty, you probably have many questions and concerns. It’s also likely that one of the top questions at the forefront of your mind is how long the recovery time is for this procedure.
Understanding the surgery, as well as the recovery period, is important for achieving peace of mind prior to your procedure. Review the information here that details what the procedure entails and the average timeline associated with a cervical disc arthroplasty recovery.
A Closer Look at Cervical Disc Arthroplasty
The cervical region of your spine is comprised of seven individual bones called vertebrae. This portion of your spine runs from the base of your skull to the base of your neck. Most of these bones are separated by an intervertebral disc.
These discs separate each bone and provide cushioning and support. They also help protect your spinal cord and nerves that run down the center of the spine through an area known as the spinal canal.
How Discs Become Damaged
While each disc is made up of a tough, fibrous outer layer, the inner portion is cartilagenous. This combination creates the perfect cushion and allows your spine to move and twist. These discs can become damaged for a number of reasons, including the natural aging process, sports, accidents and genetic predisposition to conditions such as degenerative disc disease.
When a cervical disc is compromised (whether it ruptures or is starting to disintegrate), the space between the vertebrae is decreased and this can put pressure on the nerves and spinal cord. This leads to those debilitating symptoms such as numbness, tingling and pain. In severe cases, the bones can even begin to wear against one another.
Cervical Disc Arthroplasty vs. Discectomy and Fusion
Cervical disc arthroplasty is used in individuals that are looking to regain mobility and relieve the pain, numbness and discomfort that can stem from a ruptured or otherwise damaged or diseased disc in their neck.
This procedure is frequently recommended as an alternative to discectomy and fusion. Discectomy and fusion require removal of the disc and the use of bone grafts, plates and screws to “fuse” or immobilize the space between the two vertebrae where the disc used to reside.
While a discectomy and fusion is a proven solution, it can have its drawbacks, particularly for those that lead an active lifestyle.
A cervical disc arthroplasty, on the other hand, can maintain full movement and flexibility. A discectomy is still performed, but the space is then filled with a prosthetic disc that functions in the same capacity as its natural counterpart.
Cervical Disc Arthroplasty: Procedure Overview
The procedure for a cervical disc arthroplasty is carried out in an accredited surgical center or hospital. An entire team of specialists, including a neurosurgeon, anesthesiologist and surgical nurses and assistants will be working together to ensure a smooth surgery.
Cervical disc arthroplasty is performed while you are under general anesthesia. This means you will be asleep for the duration of your surgery.
An incision will be made in the front of your neck, giving your doctors full access to the damaged disc and surrounding structures. The disc will be removed, including any displaced fragments and/or scar tissue. In some cases, bone spurs (also known as osteophytes) may also be removed.
Once the disc space is cleared of all damaged disc and debris, a special instrument will be used to ensure optimal alignment of the spine. After the replacement disc has been and sized to fit your unique disc space, x-rays or fluoroscopy are used to guide the disc into place and secure it in final position.
The incision is then closed, you are woken up, and you’re taken to recovery.
Cervical Disc Arthroplasty Recovery
The most important phase of your entire surgical journey is your recovery.
The First Week
Typically following your surgery, you will stay in the hospital for up to 24 hours. Some people are released the same day; your doctor will determine the duration of your stay in the hospital.
When you’re sent home, you may be instructed to wear a cervical collar. This helps protect the surgical site while it heals. Most patients wear this collar for a week or less.
Surgical pain typically diminishes within a few days. It’s important to remember to take your pain medication to keep discomfort at a minimum. On the upside, the pain, numbness and tingling you may have been experiencing due to nerve compression are usually greatly reduced shortly after surgery.
You can expect to feel more tired when you get back home. It’s expected, as your body is hard at work to heal itself. Be sure to get plenty of rest and eat a well-balanced diet. It’s helpful to take short, frequent walks to encourage blood flow and bring oxygen to the damaged tissues.
Once you’re two weeks post-surgery, you should feel your energy returning. The discomfort from the surgery itself will be markedly reduced at this point. You might also notice that the pain, numbness and tingling from the former compression of your nerves will be reduced or gone altogether.
If you work in a light duty job, you may be able to return to work. It’s important to still heed what your body is telling you and not overdo it. If you spend long periods of time sitting, be sure you get up regularly and stretch gently. If possible, walk around a bit to keep your circulation moving.
You may feel better, but don’t overtax yourself. Follow your doctor’s instructions on lifting restrictions or other activities you should avoid until fully healed.
Week Three and On
Week three heralds a big turning point for most people that undergo cervical disc arthroplasty. At this point, you shouldn’t experience discomfort from the surgery. Your incision will be healed and you can resume many of your normal activities. It’s between this time and week eight that you will also be seeing your doctor for a follow-up appointment.
For those that work in high-impact jobs, week six is usually when you can expect to be able to return to your full range of duties. Follow-up with your surgeon will allow him or her to fully assess the success of your surgery and determine when you can resume all prior activities at work and home.
Your cervical disc arthroplasty recovery will vary based on your individual condition. Depending on the location of your damaged disc, the amount of nerve compression that occurred and how quickly you heal in general, you can expect to be fully recovered within six months. It’s vital you speak with your doctor about any questions you might have, as this will allow him or her to address your concerns and help you create a recovery plan that’s just right for you.