Skip to main content

Damage to the spine can have life-altering impacts, regardless of whether it is the result of disease or injury. When the finely tuned discs become damaged, the resulting pain, numbness and muscle weakness can be debilitating for many people. If first-line defenses such as medication and physical therapy have failed to provide relief, neck surgery may be the best way to address the underlying issue and begin your journey back to an active lifestyle. In this article, we’ll look at what to expect when recovering from neck surgery performed using minimally invasive techniques.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Minimally invasive surgery options have resulted in radical changes for what it means to undergo neck treatments. In the past, reaching the damaged portion of the spine involved making a large incision (5-6 inches) and then retracting the surrounding muscles to allow the surgeon to reach the area of concern. This process can cause damage to the soft tissue in the neck, resulting in a painful neck surgery recovery.

On the other hand, a much smaller incision is made when minimally invasive surgical techniques are used, which results in less bleeding and less trauma to the surrounding muscles, ultimately corresponding to less pain, less risk, fewer complications and a faster recovery. Minimally invasive techniques are available for procedures including posterior cervical foraminotomy, posterior cervical microdiscectomy, anterior cervical discectomy and anterior cervical fusion.

Recovery Location

Like patients who experience any other type of significant medical procedure, individuals who choose to undergo spinal surgery should expect to begin their neck surgery recovery experience with on-site observation and support immediately following the surgery. The use of minimally invasive surgical techniques, however, typically cuts the duration of time spent away from home approximately in half. Instead of a stay of several days, most patients with minimally invasive microdiscectomies are able to return home the same day as the surgery, assuming they achieve critical benchmarks such as urinating, keeping food down, acceptable pain management and the ability to walk. Patients recovering from certain other procedures may be kept overnight for additional monitoring and support.

The remainder of a patient’s recovery is able to occur in the comfort of his or her own home.

Managing Pain

While neck surgery will often begin providing pain relief almost immediately, patients will generally experience new pain during the recovery process because of how the procedure impacts the surrounding tissue. Thankfully, minimally invasive techniques involve less disruption of the muscles and soft-tissue in the neck, and the amount and intensity of post-operative pain is generally significantly less than that associated with traditional neck surgeries.

Although the pain may be less than that associated with procedures involving a lengthy incision and more dramatic muscle retraction, patients undergoing minimally invasive neck surgery should still expect to experience some degree of pain and discomfort during the recovery process. Pain management is a critical component of post-operative care; in fact, pain control is important not only because it helps make the patient more comfortable, but because it can help the body heal and recover from surgery more quickly. Less pain typically means a faster return to normal movement, which in turn strengthens the surrounding muscles.

Medications most often used during the neck surgery recovery process, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), are not likely to introduce issues of addiction. While not always necessary, a neck brace may also sometimes be prescribed to limit motion for the sake of comfort.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is another important aspect of the recovery process for neck surgery. Consisting of targeted activities designed to help the patient regain strength and help speed the rate of recovery, physical therapy is recommended for all patients who undergo spinal surgery and typically is begun 2-6 weeks following the operation. The exercises incorporated into the physical therapy will vary depending on the specific completed procedure, as well as on the patient’s overall physical condition.

Return to Normal Activity

Individuals who undergo minimally invasive neck surgery are typically able to return to normal activity sooner than would be expected with conventional procedures, although the length of recovery varies from person to person. During the recovery doctor and patient work together to determine an appropriate transition back to a typical routine. In many cases, those people with a desk job can expect to be back at work within a week or two. Individuals with more active professions may need to wait closer to a month before resuming their former schedule. A full return to normal activity typically occurs around six weeks, depending on individual circumstances.

Minimally invasive spine surgery is a viable option to address a wide range of conditions that cause back pain, neck pain and other discomfort, while avoiding the lengthy recovery and greater pain of conventional surgery. Following these kinds of surgery, patients should expect to work with their physician to develop a path to recovery that incorporates pain management, physical therapy and an informed return to normal activity. While the journey may be slightly different for each patient, ultimately the destination is the same — a more active lifestyle with significantly less pain.

Neurosurgeon Consultation NJ