Most patients are able to go home the morning after surgery. The surgical drain is removed the morning after surgery. Before patients go home, physical therapists and occupational therapists generally work with patients and instruct them on proper techniques of getting in and out of bed and walking independently. Patients are instructed to avoid bending and twisting of the neck and heavy lifting during the first several weeks. Patients can gradually begin to bend and twist their neck as the pain subsides and the neck and back muscles get stronger.
Most patients are placed in a padded, plastic neck brace. This reduces the stress on the neck area and helps decrease pain. It can also be used to improve bone healing by maintaining the neck in a rigid position, especially in the first few weeks and months after surgery. Some patients will be provided and instructed in the use of a bone stimulator device to improve the bone healing rates.
The wound area can be left open to air. No bandages are required other than to protect clothing from any remaining wound drainage. Drainage typically stops within the first day or so after surgery. Steri-Strips affixing the suture should be left in place. The area should be kept clean and dry. Showering may begin the day after surgery. Tub bathing, saunas and other environments that place the incision in a moist or wet environment for any length of time should be avoided until the incision heals.
Patients may begin driving when the pain has decreased to a mild level and mobility of the neck has improved, which varies between patients. Patients need to be able to turn their neck and body enough to see right and left while driving. You may not drive or operate machinery while on narcotic pain medication. Patients may return to sedentary work duties as early as 3-6 weeks after surgery, depending on your surgeon’s recommendation.
Physical therapy is typically started 2 weeks after surgery. Restrictions are gradually lifted over the 3-6 months following surgery. Maximum medical improvement usually occurs 6-7 months after surgery, although you will usually need additional visits past that time frame to obtain Xrays to assess the implants and the fusion.