Understanding Cervical Spine Surgery and Recovery

Cervical Spine Surgery and RecoveryThe reasons for needing cervical spine surgery vary from patient to patient. If your doctor is advising that you have this type of procedure, you may be wondering about the recovery process.

If your doctor has advised you to have this type of procedure, you may be wondering about the recovery process.

Keep reading to learn more.

Cervical Spine Surgery: The basics

Cervical spine surgery is not usually the first option presented to a patient by a physician. However, if other methods of treatment are not successful, you might find yourself preparing for this type of surgery due to one of the following issues:

Cervical Disc Disease

Cervical Disc Disease often occurs as part of normal wear and tear on the cervical discs which are what allow you to move your neck freely and without pain.

When these discs begin to deteriorate, they can bulge or even rupture, resulting in pain, numbness, stiffness and/or weakness in the neck, arm, shoulder and/or hand.

Spinal Stenosis

Stenosis of the spine is a narrowing of the spinal canal, most often affecting older adults, usually as the result of arthritis.

Stenosis can also be caused by cervical disc herniation in which case surgery may be an option for relief.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis include numbness, tingling and/or weakness in the hand or leg, and nerve issues with the bowel or bladder.

Some patients may have issues with walking or balance.

Cervical Osteoarthritis

Again, the result of normal wear and tear or the aging process itself, Cervical Osteoarthritis can result in the growth of spurs or extra cartilage on the spine.

Symptoms are generally neck stiffness and pain, shoulder pain, headaches, or grinding of the neck when turning it.

These are just a few of the spinal issues that might result in a need for cervical spine surgery.

If the causes of your symptoms are not readily known, your doctor may use pain mapping. This treatment specifically targets abnormalities shown in MRIs or X-Rays as a process of elimination.

By pain mapping, your physician can more definitively determine the root cause of your symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Depending on your diagnosis, your surgical options may include minimally invasive procedures that can go a long way in providing pain relief.

Cervical fusion surgery is one of these and can be used for the treatment of a variety of spine issues with very little recovery time and fewer risks than with traditional surgeries.

In some cases, however, revision or complex spine surgeries are necessary. A revision surgery doesn’t necessarily mean that a previous procedure was done incorrectly.

The spine is a very complex part of the body. Sometimes, even after a previously successful surgery, the spine can degenerate and cause the need for further surgeries.

Whether you’re facing cervical spine surgery for the first time, or a revision surgery, your recovery is important.

Getting better

The hospital stay required following cervical spine surgery will depend upon the invasiveness of your procedure.

Many times, an overnight hospital stay isn’t required at all and the surgery can be done on an outpatient basis.

The surgery itself could last anywhere from one to several hours. Fusion surgeries tend to take longer than disc surgeries, for example.

While you may feel immediate relief following your procedure, gaining strength back into the affected muscles and tissues will require hours of physical therapy.

If you are required to stay in the hospital for one or two nights following your surgery, here is what you can most likely expect:


As is the case following most surgeries, a nurse will monitor the circulation in your legs and feet. You may also have an Incentive Spirometer (respiratory tube) to help you breathe more easily and prevent lung infections.

A restricted diet will not likely be part of your immediate post-op regimen, unless you have other health factors that would require it.

Following most cervical spine surgery, clear liquids are allowed initially,followed by solid foods as soon as you are able to tolerate them.

Incisions and Medications

Your incision site will likely be bandaged and the dressings changed and you may receive IVs to prevent dehydration for the duration of your inpatient hospital stay.

You may be given antibiotics intravenously for several hours after the procedure to prevent infections. Pain medication is also usually available and administered through the IV.

Make sure your nurse knows what level of discomfort, if any, that you are experiencing to ensure you will be able to handle the physical therapy that you will need to begin in the coming days.

An ice pack is often used to bring down swelling and inflammation following the surgery as well.

Physical Therapy

With the aid of a physical therapist, you will likely be allowed to sit on the edge of your bed and allowed to stand.

Patients are generally encouraged to do this within the first 24 hours following surgery. Use caution and do not over-exert yourself by trying to begin moving too quickly.

You will more than likely require a cervical brace for a period of time post-operation. The type of brace and length of time you are required to wear it will also greatly depend upon the type of surgery you required.

Some of the most common braces used are:

  • Philadelphia Collars
  • Halos
  • Soft and Hard Collars
  • Sterno-occipital-mandibular-immobilization devices (SOMIs).

Finding the right treatment for you

Cervical spine surgery is a specialty area that cannot be performed by any physician.

You should consult with a neurosurgeon who specializes in spinal disorders before agreeing to any type of surgical procedure.

With the right physician and the most appropriate procedure, many patients who undergo cervical spine surgery make a full recovery with terrific results.

The only way to know for sure what options are right for you is to havea thorough examination and consultation with a skilled expert.

If you are having issues related to any of the previously mentioned conditions, or if you are a patient considering cervical spine surgery, contact us today for an appointment.