This procedure is minimally invasive, allowing the patient to get discharged and head home within 24 hours of surgery. There are post-operative instructions to follow the six weeks after surgery to protect the spine and hardware and to ensure a full recovery.
Elevate head of bed: For at least the first week, sleep with the head of bed elevated to a minimum of 30 degrees or sleep in a recliner. The elevation may reduce swelling in the neck due to the natural inflammation process triggered by surgery, easing post-operative pain and making it easier to swallow.
Activity Restriction: Avoid high impact activities, heavy lifting, and repetitive tasks that require range of motion in the neck for at least the first six weeks after surgery. This may include driving because checking the blind spot requires turning the head.
Cervical Collar: Some patients may be placed in a soft, foam collar or in a rigid collar at the surgeon’s discretion. Generally, the collar is worn at all times, even during the night, for the first six weeks. A cervical collar should not be worn while driving as it prevents motion in the neck and would not allow for checking the blind spot before switching lanes or turning.
Walking: Walking increases blood flow, reduces the likelihood of blood clots, and reduces the likelihood of pneumonia during post-operative recovery.
Proper Nutrition: Proper intake of protein and vitamins (specifically Vitamin A) in the diet is important for healing wounds and tissues after a surgical procedure.
Pain Medication: Take prescribed pain medication only as directed and as long as necessary. Most patients are able to stop taking their prescribed pain medication within one week of surgery. Over the counter medications, such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. Ibuprofen) may be used as a supplement to or instead of prescribed pain medication.
Six Weeks After Surgery
Patients are typically evaluated with x-ray imaging to check on the placement of hardware and the recovery of the incision site for routine healing. If a cervical collar was required, it no longer needs to be worn except if needed for comfort. The majority of patients will return to work one to two weeks after the procedure, but patients that work physically demanding and labor type jobs should take more time away from work. At six weeks, all patients are able to return to work. Most patients no longer use any prescribed pain medication at six weeks, but may be using over the counter medications as needed. High impact activities, such as running, bungee jumping, downhill skiing/snowboarding, or heavy weight lifting, are still discouraged.
Twelve Months After Surgery
Patients typically undergo x-ray imaging again to get flexion (chin to chest) and extension (head tilted back) views of the cervical spine. These check spinal range of motion and confirm that there is no vertebral sliding because of the implant. All patients are back to work and performing a normal routine. The incision is well healed.
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