The "Manning Mend"

Recovering from Minimally-Invasive Cervical Fusion Surgery like an Elite Athlete

If you aren't already familiar with Peyton Manning, he is an NFL quarterback, four-time league MVP and former Super Bowl Champion currently playing for the Denver Broncos. He is also a man with a spine, just like yours and mine, who has undergone cervical fusion surgery and, judging from his latest record-breaking season, clearly recovered from it with a return to the elite status he enjoyed before suffering several neck injuries.

Here's the thing: you don't need to be an elite athlete in order to recover from cervical fusion surgery like this one. Here are some tips on making sure you take care of your MVP - YOU.

1. Avoid a False Start - First and foremost, make sure that you've exhausted all other conservative avenues for treatment of your neck pain before you ever begin to consider surgery as an option. Next, choose your spine surgeon carefully. While minimally-invasive techniques afford patients a host of studied benefits over traditional "open" surgery, like less post-operative pain and shorter hospital stays, these procedures are also highly technical. Extensive surgeon training and experience are critical to success because the risk of complications increases when surgeons don't have enough familiarity with these types of procedures. Be sure to do your research - whether it's online, asking the physician directly about his or her success rates, or if possible, speaking with one or two of his or her former patients about their experience. All of these are great steps in your decision process. 

2. Prepare for Kickoff - The research on surgery preparation is vast and conclusive. Those who prepare themselves for surgery in advance often recover faster and have better outcomes than those who don't. So get ready, preparing for both the physical requirements as well as the logistical "lifestyle" factors you'll need to consider. You'll likely be in the hospital for at least a few days (less than a traditional open procedure). Try to get everything in order beforehand and find out all of the details you can about what you will need during your recovery process both in the hospital and once you are discharged home. Planning ahead will also help to reduce your anxiety, a huge benefit to your overall recovery and well worth the front-end effort, I promise.

3. Huddle Up - Take advantage of the assistance from the "team" that is there for you - your physicians, nurses, physical therapists, family and friends. Don't go this journey alone and don't take the weight of the world on your shoulders with regard to your procedure, especially in those first several days or weeks following surgery. Help, in whatever form it takes, can mean a greater recovery and a shorter one. Take it when it's offered and by all means, ASK for it when you need it.

4. Sit the Sidelines (at least for a while) - This one is hard for many patients to handle. No matter the type of procedure or the extent, no one (not even elite athletes) bounces back from spine surgery immediately. Give yourself grace and time. Don't push too hard and don't overdo it. If you do, you could ruin what may have been a perfectly beautiful recovery all because you weren't patient enough with yourself. Recovery looks different for every individual. Stay in close communication with your surgeon and care team throughout the process and remember - slow and steady wins the race.

5. Reach YOUR End Zone - With most things in life, we humans have a tendency to compare ourselves to others. When it comes to spinal surgery, try not to. Your game is being played on your own field and on your own time. Focus on YOU. A complete recovery after surgery may mean one thing to you and something entirely different to another patient. Don't get caught up in how someone else did or is doing it. Focus on your own "personal best."

While plenty of studies have shown that minimally-invasive cervical fusions surgery has a host of benefits, including a more rapid return to work and sports than traditional open procedures, it's still important to prepare well and to focus diligently on a safe and complete recovery. While we all can't be elite athletes like Peyton Manning, with hard work and dedication, we can still reap the benefits of recovering like them.