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How to Sleep After Cervical Neck Surgery

The road to recovery after cervical neck surgery can be difficult, and one thing that frightens most patients is the need to get restorative sleep as they heal. Sleeping is a top priority after neck surgery as it enables your body to heal.

However, you can have a hard time finding a comfortable sleeping position while you're experiencing post-operative pain. What's more, certain sleep positions can actually exacerbate neck pain. So which position should you sleep in, and how much sleep should you be getting? The good news, of course, is that aside from using pillows and extra support while sleeping, there are things you can do to ease the pain and bounce back quicker after surgery.

Here's everything you need to know about getting a good night's sleep post-surgery, including ways to minimize pain and discomfort as you recover.

When Do You Need Cervical Neck Surgery?

Since every situation and every patient is unique, it's a bit hard to determine when neck surgery is necessary. Nobody wants to have cervical neck surgery, but sometimes, a surgical procedure is the only viable fix.

Naturally, trying alternative treatments and remedies is often the first course of action. But if you've followed this route and associated symptoms are still severe and interfering with your daily life, undergoing surgery may help.

Other common reasons to consider neck surgery include;

Instability in the neck region - instability or excessive movement between your neck bones can cause unbearable pain with motion or certain sleep positions. This might also lead to painful muscle spasms. A surgical procedure known as ACDF (anterior cervical discectomy and fusion) can correct this as it fuses adjacent vertebrae, thus eliminating that painful movement.

Nerve compression that's significant or worsening - having a pinched nerve in your neck (cervical radiculopathy) can cause pain, weakness, and numbness anywhere along your nerve path. This means you may feel it in your shoulders all the way down your arms. Your physician can perform surgery to remove the pressure source on the nerve path, such as a herniated disc.

Compressed spinal cord - certain neck conditions like age-related changes to the spine can put pressure on the spinal cord. You may develop problems with balance and coordination or pain and stiffness. Your surgeon may have to create more room for the spinal cord through a surgical procedure such as a laminoplasty.

Getting Into Bed After Cervical Neck Surgery

To ensure you don't cause further harm to your neck, be careful when you're getting into bed. But first things first, make sure you dress the incision on your neck appropriately with a bandage to avoid bleeding. When getting to bed, start by sitting on the edge of the bed. Remember to put your feet flat and firmly on the ground while keeping your neck and back straight the entire time.

Now slowly bend to one side, resting your weight on your elbow. As you do this, try to keep your weight concentrated on your feet and hips to ensure you are well supported. Next, carefully lift your feet as you roll over to one side of your back, keeping your neck and spine straight.

To avoid twisting your neck, wear a neck brace as it will help significantly maintain your injured neck. Otherwise, your neck can easily bend out of shape, which might cause a blood clot. Sleeping on a recliner or an adjustable bed will be better than a regular bed.

In case you have a bone graft or spinal infusion surgery, then you'll have to use a collar to hold the screws and plates in place. If not, you'll be forced to head to the surgery room to get them fixed. If you don't prefer using a neck collar, you can wear it for the first week up to ten days, then ditch them. But keep in mind that you won't be entirely out of danger.

So, What's the Best Sleeping Position Post Surgery?

Now that you know how to get into bed correctly, let's look at some of the best sleep positions post-surgery. After cervical neck surgery, getting a good night's sleep can be a challenge as your doctor will advise you to avoid putting strain on your neck and shoulders. 

This also happens when you're experiencing other medical conditions, such as hip or shoulder pain from sleeping on your side. You'll have to adjust your sleep posture to avoid causing more harm to the injured section.

Patients often prefer sleeping on their stomachs. Whatever the sleep position you choose, ensure that your neck stays protected by keeping your legs, spine, and neck aligned. It's always wise to seek professional medical advice for the best sleeping position post-surgery.

It may be pretty hard to change positions as most people's preferred sleeping positions are determined early in life. However, you'll become more comfortable over time as the new posture becomes familiar.

Sleeping On Your Side

When sleeping on your side, ensure you roll a pillow or towel between the legs for added comfort. You can also bend your knees and put a pillow under your head. Just ensure your pillow isn't too high or flat.

Otherwise, you risk causing further injury to your neck. If the surgical procedure affected other body parts like the shoulders, consider tucking your pillow under your arms or hugging it for pain relief.

If you often put one knee up or you like placing your arms under the head when sleeping on your side, make sure you place a pillow behind your hips and back to avoid rolling out of the side sleeping position. Placing a heavy blanket on top of your body can help prevent your arms from moving or shifting in the night.

Sleeping Upright

Many patients find pain relief post-surgery by sleeping in a recliner or an upright position. If you choose this sleep position, be extra careful as you may easily slump your head forward. Keep in mind that a human head weighs about 23 pounds. All of this weight exerts pressure on the arteries interwoven through your cervical spine, which delivers blood to the brain.

Leaning forward pulls your spine out of alignment, causing your vertebrae to shift into an unnatural position. Besides smushing your arteries, this phenomenon can exert pressure on your discs and nerves.

That said, only adopt this position if you have a recliner or a seat with lumbar region support. Also, ensure your recliner or adjustable bed is spacious enough to protect you from falling.

Sleeping On Your Stomach

This is the worst sleeping position after neck surgery. Stomach sleeping is dangerous to your health as it increases the risk of twisting your head while in a deep sleep. If you must rest in this position, make sure you put your pillow under the pelvis to prevent infection from mechanical problems.

Sleeping On Your Back

When it comes to sleep, the most effective way of reducing pain and the risk of developing post-procedural complications is by sleeping on your back. This gives your cervical and thoracic spine the much-needed support, thus easing your post-surgery pain.

But ensure you keep your arms at your side when sleeping. Having your arms over or under your neck can pressure your neck and shoulders, causing damage and painful injuries. If an incision were made on your cervical spine, you'd have to use an orthopedic pillow to minimize excessive movement or wear your neck collar to bed. You might find it more comfortable and relaxing to bend your legs and place your feet flat on your bed when lying on your back.

Creating a Conducive Sleep Environment

Aside from choosing the best sleeping position, you need to make sure your bedroom is quiet, cool, and comfortable. Although it may seem like an inconsequential thing, you should never underestimate the importance of creating a conducive sleep environment. It may be the only thing that will help you transition quickly to rest—or perhaps the one thing that will keep you from tossing and turning all night.

Some of the factors you should consider when optimizing a bed for sleep include temperature, lighting, noise, and your mattress selection. If you tend to get cold at night, have blankets and extra pillows within arm's reach. By the side of the bed or next to it is often a good spot as you won't have to move too much to get them.

Related Content: How to Sleep with Broken Ribs

Pillows to Use Post Surgery

Using mattresses and pillows specially made for patients who have undergone neck surgery can often help reduce pain and make it easier to rest. When choosing a pillow for neck pain relief, the most important thing to consider is maximum support.

Generally, memory foam or feather pillows offer excellent support. The design of these pillows helps reduce pain and neck strain. Remember to pick thin and low-profile cervical pillows that won't elevate your head too much.

Getting Out of Bed After Cervical Neck Surgery

When getting out of bed, apply the log roll method. Tuck your arms into one side and then roll over towards the edge of the bed. The next step involves ensuring your neck is straight before propping yourself up using your elbow.

Then, place your feet firm on the ground as you slowly and carefully lift yourself to sit. During this process, try to put your body weight on your legs instead of your hips or back.

You may need assistance getting in and out of bed during the first few weeks after surgery. Ask a friend, caretaker, or a family member to help you as needed.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From Cervical Neck Surgery?

Usually, patients have to remain in the medical center for about two days following this neck surgery. Further recovery may take up to 6 weeks, after which you can get back to light activities.

Full recovery will take about 2 to 3 months. Your doctor is likely to put you forward for physical rehabilitation therapy to help strengthen your neck and back muscles.

Factors That Affect Recovery Time

There are various factors that will determine how long the recovery process will take. The type of surgery you have and how bad your neck condition is are two of the most crucial factors that affect recovery time. Others include;

Age - younger patients are likely to recover faster than older patients.

Overall health and lifestyle - besides age, your pre-existing health and lifestyle significantly affect recovery speed. The healthier you are prior to the procedure, the faster your recovery. Those who lead an active lifestyle also tend to recover quickly.

Pain Management at Home

Neck procedures are often associated with intense pain during the postoperative period. Fortunately, a diverse array of pharmacological alternatives exists to lessen pain post-surgery.

For instance, you can take over-the-counter medication, such as Tylenol or acetaminophen, to manage any soreness or pain. If your pain persists, reach out to your doctor for stronger pain medication.

Closing Thoughts

Every patient reacts differently and needs care accordingly. So, pay close attention and trust yourself. Try to give it time, patience, and respect, as proper recovery isn't that easy after such a significant surgery.

Also, keep yourself on the road to getting better by getting the best night's rest possible. If you continue to experience sleep problems, talk to your physician. Above all, follow your care provider's pain management and sleep plan to ensure you heal and return to your usual activities as quickly as possible.

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