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Questions After Neck Surgery

1. Why am I having trouble swallowing?

Answer: The esophagus has to be retracted during the operation, causing swelling that makes it difficult to swallow. In other words, the esophagus has to be pulled over with gentle force by a metal instrument, and because of this some local swelling occurs. It takes a number of days or weeks for this swelling to go down. We ask patients to please be careful about their diet immediately following surgery by eating soft, wet foods, rather than dry, chunky foods. A soft diet might include soups, mashed potatoes, Cream of Wheat, pureed foods, etc.

2. I have some discomfort on the back of my neck and between my shoulderblades, and what are these small marks on my scalp?

Answer: During surgery, we apply a tong-type device to the skull to hold the patient steady during the operation. The neck has to be somewhat extended or placed backwards to allow access to the disc spaces. This stretching of the ligaments during the operation gives people some discomfort between their shoulderblades, but within a period of days to weeks, this usually resolves.

3. Why is my incision slightly raised on the front of my neck?

Answer: In closing the neck incision, we actually suture the flat muscle in this area-called the platysma muscle-back together. This causes raising of the incision to some degree. As soon as the dissolvable sutures completely deteriorate, the muscle goes flat and the incision flattens out as well.

4. What activities should I avoid following my neck fusion surgery?

Answer: Really not very much. We advise people that prolonged flexion-postures such as sitting with your neck bent down or your chin on your chest-puts a lot of pressure on the bone and on the plate and screws. We believe flexion is not advisable for the first six to eight weeks. Certainly, extension, rotation, or side-bending of your neck is fine.

5. When should I start working out after my neck surgery?

Answer: We believe you could start working out almost immediately. Walking an unlimited number of miles is something you can start early. Working out with light weights (again keeping the neck relatively immobile and secure) and lots of repetitions can start within a week or ten days following your neck surgery. This applies only to anterior cervical fusion operations.