What to Expect After a Corpectomy – Neck Surgery

As the patient comes round from the general anaesthetic they will most likely have a hard cervical collar in place to avoid injury or trauma to the area and to support the neck muscles. This collar is usually worn for around eight to twelve weeks. A halo brace immobilization is rarely needed, but the hard cervical collar should be worn according to the guidance given by the surgeon or physician. The patient will usually have radiographs conducted after the surgery to assess graft position and progress. These will be repeated every three to six months to ensure that the graft is incorporating well and that nothing has shifted out of place. As smoking has a profound effect on the success rate of fusion, it is important to cease smoking before the operation and to persist with this after the procedure.

Getting Around after Surgery

As soon after surgery as possible, the patient is encouraged to become active. Moving to a chair, walking to the bathroom, and then taking more extended walks around the ward are excellent ways to get the blood flowing, reduce the risk of thrombophlebitis, and to aid the healing process. Patients should stop the activity if pain becomes worse, and then resume once they feel stronger. Avoiding lifting heavy objects, raising the arms over the head, and twisting or bending are advisable for a little while after surgery to ensure the body has time to recover. Usually the patients will be allowed to shower the day after neck surgery, with the dressing in place and then changed afterwards. Care should be taken not to tilt the head whilst the collar is removed. They should be careful not to rub the incision, rather to pat it dry. The collar should be put back in place afterwards.

Corpectomy Recovery

A corpectomy is one of the more difficult spinal surgeries to perform and has a fairly lengthy recovery period in comparison to a less invasive microlaminoforaminotomy. Patients are unlikely to return to work for a number of weeks, and should avoid any strenuous activity until cleared by the doctor. As with any surgery there are potential complications and patients should remain watchful for signs of infection or problems with bone grafts and inserted hardware. Any redness, swelling, or leaking of fluid from the incision should be immediately reported, as should a fever, rash, headache, or alteration in pain and a stiff neck. These could all be signs of an infection as a result of a dural tear, which can progress to spinal meningitis. Complications are rare, even for this more extended and complex surgery.

Some patients will experience mild discomfort at the site of incision, which can be addressed with medication. As the surgery is at the front of the neck, a patient may have a mild sore throat for a short while, which rarely persists for more than a few days. A one or two night stay in hospital is standard and, during this time, there is usually a noticeable improvement in the patient’s symptoms. Radicular pain is usually the first symptom to be relieved, with numbness and weakness generally taking longer to be alleviated. The extent and speed of recovery depends on the amount of damage inflicted prior to decompression. If severe stenosis has occurred, with major nerve trauma, then it is possible that the corpectomy will not restore proper function to the nerve.

Next read about: Risks of a Corpectomy Surgical Procedure