A Quick Guide to Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery Recovery
While recovery times following artificial disc replacement (ADR) surgery are significantly faster than spinal fusion surgery, the key to a full recovery is maintaining balance
When Stephen Miller, 31, of Tampa, Florida, was having chronic neck pain, he likened it to being doused in gasoline and set on fire. The burning sensation he experienced radiated from down his neck, down his spine, and through his arms. After electing to undergo artificial disc replacement surgery, Miller says, “I remember going in, falling asleep, and I woke up and I never felt better.” Today, Miller, who enjoys golf and martial arts, is back swinging at balls on the green and aggressively practicing his hand strikes against his training bag—pain-free. If you’re like Miller, you may have chosen artificial disc replacement surgery as a procedure to restore the quality of life and movement lost in your lumbar spine at the hands of chronic back pain. And you, too, have likely come out on the other side feeling like a completely different person after your artificial disc replacement procedure. If that’s you, then it’s time to set your sights on what a good ADR post-op recovery looks like.
In this article
- Home Recovery from Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery
- Basic ADR Post-Op Care
- Post-Op Fitness & Nutrition
- Getting Help from BackerNation’s Wellness Coaches
After your artificial disc replacement surgery, you will be able to return home to begin your recovery in about 2 to 4 days. Before you’re discharged, a physical or occupational therapist will come to your recovery room to teach you the proper techniques for getting in and out of bed, how to walk unassisted, and remind you about basic back care post-op protocol, such as instructing you about bending, twisting, and lifting. You'll also be shown ways to conduct every day self-care which includes dressing yourself and performing activities without adding strain on your back.
Once you’re discharged from the hospital or surgical center, you’ll find that you’ll have a few restrictions on your activity, but unlike other back surgeries involving your lumbar spine, you’ll also be up and about much faster. Here are a few things to expect:
- Sleeping: Find a position that doesn’t hurt your back and that feels comfortable to you. This is likely to be on your back or on your side. “Continuous, uninterrupted sleep is important for healing faster,” says Dr. Kaixuan Liu, founder and president of Atlantic Spine Center. “Some back surgery patients prefer to sleep on their side with a pillow between their knees or behind them to support their back.”
- Getting Out of Bed. Your physical therapist will show you step-by-step in the hospital how to perform the log rolling technique for getting out of bed properly. "This technique will prove to be an important one since you'll be expected to get up and walk as soon as possible after your surgery (likely after about 24 hours),” says Dr. Faheem Sandhu, director of spine surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and professor of neurological surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center.
- Heavy lifting. Heavy lifting is among the other things you won't be able to do right after your disc replacement surgery. “Nothing over 10 pounds, or more than a gallon of milk,” Lui shares. In time during your recovery, as your muscles become stronger through exercise and physical therapy, you'll be able to get back to lifting more weight.
- Showering. You can't take a bath until your incision is completely healed because the wound should remain dry. A shower chair and stool are also a must to make sure you shower safely. “Sitting on a shower-seat is advantageous as it decreases the chance of slipping or falling,” says Dr. Larry Kurz. Another precaution you might want to take is having someone there the first time or two in case you need extra help getting in and out of the shower.
- Driving. You won't be able to drive right away during recovery. Your pain has to be under control before you can drive again, and you can't drive while taking prescription pain killers. “Do not drive if you are taking opioids post-op,” says Dr. Stefano Sinicropi, a board-certified expert in spinal surgery. “Once you have weaned off the opioid pain meds, you should be able to get back behind the wheel.” Given this, you won't be back on the road solo for 7-14 days. And just like showering, you should have someone with you on your first drive after surgery. You don't want to be out and about and be alone if you need assistance.
You will want to get moving as soon as possible, but under the direction of your doctor and physical therapist. For the first six weeks of ADR surgery recovery, walking is one of the best exercises you can do. Start slow and work up to walking for 30 minutes at least twice a day. “Keeping your body moving, rather than lying in bed all day, is the best thing you can do to get your spine back to optimal health,” says Sinicropi.
After six weeks, you can venture into a swimming pool for wading, walking, and light aerobic exercise, although swimming that involves stress on the neck is discouraged for the first three months of recovery. Avoid Jumping, diving and kick turns or flips, which can aggravate or cause injury to your spine.
“I remember going in, falling asleep, and I woke up and I never felt better.” — Stephen Miller, on having artificial disc replacement surgery
If you attend or have access to a fitness center or gym, you can use exercise bikes, stair-climbers, weight machines, and ellipticals. Exercises that will cause stress on your back can create setbacks in your recovery, like sit-ups or crunches, should be avoided until your surgeon or physical therapist approves. Gentle stretching is commonly recommended, particularly strengthening exercises that help stabilize muscles that support your back.
Protein, called the building block of life, plays an important role in your spine’s recovery. Protein-rich foods like seafood, white-meat poultry, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, beans, pork tenderloin, soy, and lean beef should be consumed. While your surgery may affect your appetite, you will eventually be able to eat normally. That said, do expect some weight loss post-op. “It is common for patients to lose or gain weight in the first few months after surgery. This is a balance between weight loss from diminished calorie intake due to poor appetite, and weight gain from diminished activity. With time, weight can increase from improved appetite, and can decrease from increased activity, especially beginning with physical therapy,” says Sinicropi.
If you’ve scheduled your artificial disc replacement and are reading to know what to expect, or if you’re fresh out of the operating room and in recovery, you’re going to want all of the expert advice you can get to make sure that your procedure was a success. That’s why BackerNation introduced its wellness coach program. You’ll have access 24/7/365 to medical professionals who can help answer your post-op recovery questions after your artificial disc replacement surgery. You can speak to physical therapists, chiropractors, dietitians, and any other health care provider that you need to make your road to recovery a smooth one. When you sign up for back wellness coaches, you get access to our on-staff nutritionists to develop a nutrition plan that reduces inflammation and fits into your life, or a coach who can offer you explicit instructions on how to perform stretches and exercises that helped other Backers with similar conditions. And best of all, our wellness coaches work virtually and can help you right from your home.
The post-op recovery after your artificial disc replacement surgery isn’t one that you have to do alone. Our health experts are ready to help you recover smoothly after your procedure and get back the life you love. “You can go through the things I went through and then come out and thoroughly enjoy life. It makes me grateful for the product and for having a great doctor to put it all in there.” concludes Miller.
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Those electing to receive a spinal fusion should do so after all other treatments have been explored. The procedure will not fully “fix” your back or provide complete pain relief, but it will prevent motion in the painful portions of your spine returning and allow you to have some function and normalcy.