Cervical Disc Replacement Complications

"Is There Anything You Cannot Do After A Cervical Disc Replacement?"
by Dr. Benjamin Geddes

Yes, so it's a question really with both technologies, eventually, you're able to get back to pretty much anything you want. In the short term, you will notice a couple of differences. For 2 or 3 level fusion, most surgeons will place a patient in a cervical collar, which is a hard plastic device that's meant to hold your neck stable. You can take it off for simple things like eating and for hygiene. But in general, you're kind of locked up in a collar and it's not a big deal, but it is a bit of an inconvenience. And the point of that is to really provide extra external stability while internally the bones are starting to heal and fuse together.

The opposite is really true with an arthroplasty or disc replacement. We want you to maintain motion and we want you to not lay down abnormal bone growth. We want things to continue to move. And so you certainly would not be in a collar for that. We just put you in a stop dressing and we want you to move and do things.

In terms of frequent people asking what can I get back to work? It's obviously related to how strenuous the job is. If you work from home, which a lot of people do right now, or if you have a more desk-based job, really after the first couple of weeks, you could get back. You just have to be on pain medications and have the soft tissue heals, which takes about two or three weeks. For more strenuous activities with the arthroplasty, unlike with the fusion, where you're waiting for a fusion arthroplasty, it's essentially as strong as we'll ever be right away. There is some bone ingrowth, but it's quite stable right away.

And so you can advance pretty quickly to doing more strenuous activities and exercise even by that first postoperative visit at four to six weeks. Maybe for the most high-end athletic activities, you may have to wait a little bit longer on the order of maybe two months. Some of that just depends on what activity you want to get back to.

For the fusion, after you come out of the cervical collar, you're able to start doing more activities. But in terms of strenuous activities, we really would want to wait for fusion to occur because that construct isn't strong enough to do what you need to do with it until the bones are fused together in terms of higher-level activities.

And so you just have to wait longer on the order of months, three months plus, depending on what kind of activities you want to do. But ultimately you should be able to get back to high-level athletics, military duty, etc., or some of the highest levels of activity with both technologies, but probably faster with the arthroplasty option.

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Dr. Benjamin Geddes