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An overview of recovery from Cervical Total Disc Replacement. You may be surprised to learn that recovery from disc replacement may be faster and easier than the recovery from spinal fusion. Watch this video to learn more.

Video Transcript

"So, after months of debilitating neck or arm pain, multiple treatments, and repeat medical consultations, the time for delaying the inevitable is finally over. Your doctor says you need spine surgery. But the days when fusion procedures were the go-to option are no longer. As the number of doctors and insurers supporting total disc replacement as an alternative to spinal fusion grows daily, it’s more important than ever to understand some of the differences in recovery between these two procedures.

When considering any surgery, one of the most common concerns is recovery, both the time and toll it will take. However, not all spine surgeries are created equal when it comes to recovery. Though spinal fusion has been the standard of care for correcting cervical disc issues, healthcare providers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential improvement in recovery time and resolution of pain from a total disc replacement procedure versus a fusion.

This is Dr. Kevin Rutz, an orthopedic spine surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Rutz has been performing disc arthroplasty with devices such as the ProDisc C Total Disc Replacement for over a decade. ‘When I look at the difference between recovering from a cervical disc replacement versus a cervical fusion, I think it’s relatively significant,’ says Dr. Rutz. ‘Fusion’s been around for a long time. It’s a very good operation, but the rules are different after surgery. After I do a ProDisc cervical disc replacement, the device is extremely stable from the moment I put it in. I’m pushing my patients to adopt a mindset that they can have the confidence to do things because I know that they’re not going to mess anything up. When I do a cervical fusion, I am literally blocking their activity so that they don’t mess up the surgery. Protect your neck for a couple of months until the bones are healed, and then you can go back to doing normal activities.’

And Dr. Rutz has the ideal background to understand this. That’s because Dr. Rutz not only implants these devices on a regular basis, he’s also a disc replacement patient himself. ‘Eight years ago, I was working out one morning, and about an hour later, I had numbness down my right arm and I couldn’t look up. So, I was able to get an MRI and a while later had my cervical disc replacement. And I was home later that night. I went back to work on Monday, and then on Wednesday, I remember I operated for 10 hours straight. And I was not being tough. That doesn’t mean all patients bounce back that quickly, but it is not strange to be able to get back to things very quickly after this type of surgery.’

Though Dr. Retz’s rapid recuperation is consistent with the experiences of many cervical total disc replacement recipients, recovery from the procedure is still a process. ‘Everybody’s a little bit different with how sore they are after surgery. I found that 25% of people never take a pain medication the day after surgery. I would say the average patient maybe takes pain pills for a day or two after surgery. It’s kind of like you’re recovering from a bad cold. You’re sore, your throat’s a little sore, you’re tight and achy. But you’re functional. You can go to work and take care of your kids after a cervical disc replacement, basically almost immediately. By two weeks, you’re going to be about 50% better as far as neck discomfort. And then by six weeks, you’re going to be 90% better. But I think it takes six months for little aches and twinges to go away. I know for myself, by six months, I kind of forgot that I had surgery.’

When it comes to patients getting back to other activities that they enjoy, such as golf, working out, the variability really comes down to the patient themselves. ‘People that really want to get back to things are going to do it quickly. Those that are a little bit more fearful seem to be more timid getting back to things. But technically, there’s no reason they can’t get back to normal things.’