What Is Cervical Disc Replacement?
Cervical disc replacement is a procedure to remove and replace a severely herniated or diseased disc in the neck. The process relieves the pressure the disc creates on the surrounding nerves. The result is reduced pain and stiffness, and less discomfort in the neck, shoulder, and arm. The success of the surgery hinges on a consistent rehabilitation (rehab) program that will help patients quickly return to work and everyday life. Rehab also restores full range of motion and strengthens the neck. Following the proper steps, patients have a better outlook.
Out with the old
Almost all cervical disc replacements occur on the discs between the C4 and C7 vertebrae. The surgeon will access the disc from the front of the neck, carefully moving the muscles and tissue covering the disc. The herniated disc is then removed, leaving any healthy parts intact. From there, the surgeon installs a special artificial spacer to take the place of the disc after restoring space in the spine. The doctor will restore any tissue or muscle and close the incisions. In most cases, the patient can leave the same or the following day. Physical therapy after the procedure involves 2-6 weeks of strengthening and improving the range of motion.
Take it easy
Patients will first focus on healing surgical wounds and reducing inflammation. Pain can be managed with ice and pain medications. Light walking, stationary bike, and light stretching of the upper body will be encouraged. The medical team will also provide occupational therapy for lifting, sleeping, and showering. After 2 weeks, the surgeon will remove any soft neck brace and sutures. The rehab program then intensifies under the guidance of a therapist.
Ramping up rehab
Rehab will involve exercise to strengthen the neck and surrounding muscles while improving flexibility. The session will happen 2-3 times per week or as often as the therapist recommends. To support the neck, the patient will perform exercises like rows, lateral pulldowns, extensions, arm retractions, and many others. These exercises will be coupled with stretches of the neck muscles in different directions, like the side neck stretch and chin tuck. Exercises will increase in intensity, or heavier weights may be used. As time progresses, the patient will be encouraged to do some of these exercises at home.
Back to work
The physical therapist and doctor will gauge the progress over time. The patient should feel less pain and discomfort while achieving more flexibility in the neck. At 3 weeks, driving, desk work, and some social activities will be allowed as long as the patient is not taking strong pain medications. More strenuous tasks will need a longer recovery time. Patients are also encouraged to go swimming, jogging, and biking to improve overall health. Most patients will be pain-free and fully recovered after 6-8 weeks based on factors like health, weight, and type of surgery performed.
Better rehab, better results
Cervical disc replacement will finally remove the cause of pain in the neck and shoulders. The medical team will encourage rest, exercise, and pain management during rehab. A healthy diet, hydration, sleep, and stress reduction also play a part in recovery. The procedure has both immediate and long-term benefits. Take rehab seriously, then enjoy a pain-free life.