Home Recovery: Following Cervical Spine Surgery

Physical Activity
Daily walking is the best exercise. Increase your distance a little each day, setting a pace that avoids fatigue or severe pain.  You may climb stairs when you feel able.  Discomfort is normal while you gradually return to normal activity, but pain is a signal to proceed more slowly.  Sexual relations may be resumed during the recovery period, but positions that strain the neck or cause pain should be avoided.

If you are discharged with a hard cervical collar, it is to be worn as directed by your physician.  If you are given a soft collar for comfort, please use while active and remove when resting.  Not all patients require a collar to use so follow your physician’s instructions.

At your 1 to 3 week post-operative appointment, we will give you specific instructions regarding an exercise program you can do for yourself at home.

Please avoid any heavy lifting, straining, swimming, golfing, driving or riding a bicycle until after your return appointment at 1 to 3 weeks.

Your doctor will determine when you can return to work and with what restrictions. Restrictions are individualized depending on the type of work you do, and the amount of lifting, bending and twisting that is required at your work. Please discuss this with your doctor at your first post-operative meeting.

You should not drive a car until released by your physician usually AFTER your first postoperative visit. Never drive after pain medications. You may ride as a passenger at any time and may also ride in a plane as necessary. Take several short trips prior to a long trip. If going on a long trip, take frequent breaks (at least every hour).

Medications and Diet
Prescription pain medications will be given for discomfort which is not relieved by over-the-counter medications. We expect the use of pain medicines to be very mild and usually dispense enough pain medicines to last the patient throughout the entire recovery period. With any operation there is a certain amount of discomfort and pain in the neck and arms which are normal until inflammation and nerve sensitivity have subsided. This includes numbness and tingling and pain between the shoulder blades. Heat, moderate exercise and rest will also help to improve the recovery and decrease the pain. Laxatives should be used as needed. Narcotic pain medicines generally cause mild constipation.

You may experience some difficulty swallowing and sore throat for a few days. You may want to eat soft foods and avoid hot items during this period. Remember to drink plenty of fluids when you eat.

Refills of narcotics are generally done only during post-operative visits and will not be prescribed over the telephone unless there are extenuating circumstances. Narcotics will not be filled on weekends beginning at noon on Friday or after-hours.

You may take a shower once the original dressing is removed from the wound. This is usually done in the hospital or the day after the discharge. Do not let the shower hit directly on the wound and do not submerse the wound under water such as in a hot tub or bath tub for at least three weeks. If the wound is wet, merely pat it dry. Do not rub it dry.

Wound Problems
If steri-strips (butterfly tape) were applied, you may take them off after five to seven days.

If Dermabond (glue) is used, this will slowly come off over two weeks. Do not put any ointment or lotion on your incision.

If sutures are in place, they will need to come out about 1 week after surgery. If the skin sutures were removed before your discharge from the hospital, it is not necessary to keep the incision covered.

It is important to look at your wound on a daily basis and inspect the area for signs of redness, swelling, drainage or pus. Any temperature increases to 101 or greater, or if swallowing difficulty becomes worse, or pain which is equal to or greater than your pre-operative state, should be reported immediately to the office.

Please notify our office at 251-450-3700 or 800-628-5956 immediately if you have any problems or concerns.

Outpatient Information at Costal Neurological Institute
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