Surgery Is Just The Start
A cervical disc replacement removes a damaged or diseased intervertebral disc. From there, a new, artificial disc gets installed. Successful surgery is just the start. The procedure depends on physical therapy and a smooth rehabilitation. The goal of rehab is to strengthen the neck while improving flexibility.
Why would you need surgery?
Fibrous discs separate the bones of the cervical spine. These intervertebral discs are shock absorbing and help with movement. Sometimes these discs become damaged, diseased, or slip out of place. The resulting pain, weakness, and discomfort can be chronic. If non-surgical treatment fails, a disc replacement may help.
It’s time for rehab
On average, the recovery time for a disc replacement takes between 6-12 weeks. This timeframe can vary from patient to patient. Most patients can leave the same day, especially if the procedure is minimally invasive. The doctor will review the surgical wounds and look for signs of excessive pain. Once all is well, the patient can start the physical therapy process.
Protecting your neck
During the first 2 weeks of therapy, the goal is to secure the neck to prevent further injury. The disc is going through a delicate stage of healing, so treatment is purely preventative. A physical therapist or doctor will direct the patient to avoid heavy lifting, bending, or twisting. Occupational therapy will help with bathing, changing clothes, and understanding the neck’s mechanics. As the days go on, the patient will perform gentle exercises to stretch the neck, shoulders, and back. Some light exercise like walking is encouraged at this stage.
After 2 weeks, the neck should be stronger, and the incisions should show signs of healing. The patient should also feel less pain and discomfort. Once the doctor sees improvement, the patient will take on outpatient physical therapy. Outpatient therapy happens at least 3 times weekly to strengthen the neck. The patient performs several exercises under the guidance of the therapist. These exercises combine isometric holds, rotations, and extensions, often with exercise equipment.
Mixing it up
The strength component can last up to 4 weeks, increasing with intensity each week. After that, the physical therapist may encourage or include other activities. For instance, the patient can walk longer distances or use a stationary bike. Aquatic therapy is another effective form of treatment that can relieve stress on the new replacement. The doctor will monitor progress and suggest supplemental therapy like massages during this time.
Maintaining your new disc
Physical therapy continues up to the 6-week mark. The patient should feel much better and can resume most everyday activities in moderation. There should be no need to visit the physical therapist weekly. However, the therapist will provide exercises to improve strength and range of motion. These would be a combination of stretches, rotations, and extensions that patients can do. This stage is all about maintaining and conditioning the neck, so stopping exercises can return the pain. Conditioning happens up to the 12-week mark, and the surgeon should give a full bill of health at this point.
Don’t skip physical therapy
On average, cervical disc replacement patients have a 90% success rate. This success rate is often contingent on a smooth, consistent rehab. Even after rehab, the neck can take up to 1 year to heal. Constant stretching, rest, and massage can significantly improve the satisfaction rate. Physical therapy can be difficult at times, especially in the initial stages. However, if done well, most patients will feel less pain and get the maximum benefits of surgery.