Need-to-Know Bullet Points on the Recovery Time for Anterior Cervical Fusion Surgery

Alan S. Hilibrand, MD March 27th, 2015

Orthopedic surgeons often harp on the importance of patient involvement in the post-surgical healing process. When you’re dealing with bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, cartilage and other aspects of the musculoskeletal system, it’s no wonder that a surgeon would want his or her patient to be fully educated and prepared to take on the recovery process with energy and commitment.

Even in the case of the average recovery time for anterior cervical fusion surgery, the above statement still applies. Although spinal surgery may seem like a daunting prospect, patients should be ready and willing to understand their own role in the process. After all, if there is any time that the success of your procedure depends on you, it is during recovery.

Cervical Decompression & Fusion Surgery: The Ideal Candidate
If you’re suffering from consistent arm pain or numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms, you most likely have an issue in the cervical region of the spine that is causing those symptoms. This root cause could be a pinched nerve, a herniated disc, a bone spur or some other condition that impacts the nerves exiting the cervical spine.
The ideal candidate for a cervical decompression and fusion surgery is a patient who is experiencing these symptoms and has already attempted - without success - to address the problem with non-operative measures. More specifically, depending upon the location of the compressive pathology and the alignment of the cervical spine, some patients may need this surgery performed from the anterior side of the body.
Recovery Time for Anterior Cervical Fusion Surgery
4 Questions to Ask as You Prepare:
  1. What is the purpose of this procedure? The purpose of an anterior cervical decompression and fusion surgery is to remove compressive bone spurs and disc fragments to bolster spinal stability.
  2. What are the noticeable results of a successful procedure? The patient should experience relief of arm pain and other symptoms. In addition, any correction to spinal deformities could add to the recovery time for anterior cervical fusion surgery.
  3. How are these goals achieved during the procedure? During surgery, the compressive discs and spurs are removed and a bone graft is added in order to supply that area of the spine with extra support. The fusion takes place naturally as the healing process occurs.
  4. What is the significance of the “fusion” portion of the procedure? This aspect of the surgery is actually commonly misunderstood. The surgeon does not “fuse” anything together during the course of the surgery. Rather, as described above, the bone graft is simply added and the patient’s body then uses it to naturally fuse that segment of the spinal column. This is an important part of the recovery process and facilitates strength and stability in the spine.
Need-to-Know Tips
  • While there are some possible (but unlikely) risks associated with this procedure, your own commitment to proper recovery can help prevent them. Talk to your physician about how to prepare yourself for surgery day and for recovery in order to avoid any complications and ensure the best possible results.
  • The stronger and healthier your entire body is prior to surgery, the easier your recovery time for anterior cervical fusion surgery will be. If you’re a smoker or if you’re overweight, start with goals to lose weight and quit smoking. If you’re already relatively healthy, concentrate your efforts on getting even more nutrient-dense foods in your diet.
  • After your surgery, you may be able to leave the hospital the next day (or at least within two to three days). What’s even more exciting is that patients are usually able to walk soon after an anterior cervical decompression and fusion surgery!
  • Your surgeon may not prescribe any physical therapy during your recovery time for anterior cervical fusion surgery, but he or she may show you some helpful isometric neck strengthening movements that you should perform regularly at home.
  • Make arrangements now to have some help around the house for the first several weeks after your surgery. As your recovery progresses and your regain strength and stability, you’ll become increasingly independent. However, a little extra help in the first weeks will go a long way toward allowing you the rest you’ll need.
If you or someone you love needs spinal decompression and fusion surgery, call Rothman Orthopaedic Institute at 1-800-321-9999.

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