It’s important to try a conservative, nonsurgical approach to cervical radiculopathy treatment first. Physical therapy can help to separate the vertebrae and create the muscle support to make space in the spine. In some cases, injections can help facilitate this too, temporarily relieving pain while a patient begins physical therapy. A soft surgical collar, combined with the passage of time, can also help relieve pressure and restore the health of the discs.
If you are among the 10% of patients for whom more conservative treatments do not work, you do have surgical options:
Spinal fusion is a surgical technique that may help when other conservative treatment approaches have failed for severe forms of pain.
For cervical radiculopathy, your surgeon removes the herniated disc and uses a bone graft to replace it. Special hardware holds the vertebrae in place while they heal, giving the bones time to come together.
When cervical myelopathy is causing painful pressure on the nerves, spinal cord decompression surgery can create space between your vertebrae.
Opening up this space relieves painful pressure on the spinal cord. Your surgeon may perform spinal fusion at this time for increased stability, too.
Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is a procedure that removes what remains of the damaged disc and fuses at least two of the cervical vertebrae together to provide more stability and decrease (or eliminate) pain.
To access the cervical vertebrae, your doctor will make a small incision in the throat. This is a safer way to perform cervical fusion because operating in the back of the neck can damage neck muscles or the spinal column itself. Moving the neck tissue aside, your surgeon then removes the damaged disc. A spinal fusion is also usually performed to increase stability in the neck and prevent re-injury.
Cervical Disc Recovery Time
Recovery time from these surgeries vary from patient to patient. Yours will depend on your age, overall physical health, and compliance with aftercare instructions.
Patients are typically sent home from surgery with a brace for support and a short-term prescription for pain medication. There may also be a prescription for physical therapy and exercise. In general, you can expect to return gradually to normal activities after two weeks, gently easing into more strenuous work or exercise only when approved to do so by your doctor.
For procedures with bone grafting, expect full recovery time to take somewhere between two and four months. Give yourself the best chance at this shorter recovery time by diligently following all of your doctor’s recovery instructions. This also means taking good care of yourself with proper diet and abstaining from smoking or excessive alcohol use.