Back to strength training after cervical disc replacement surgery

In 2022, Jessica McAndrew, 37, was going through a tough time. She had recently lost her mom and was starting a stressful new job, both of which she could tell was causing tension in her neck. Fortunately, as a strength training enthusiast since high school, she could relieve some of her stress by working out at the gym through strength training.

One workout made things worse

“I was with a trainer doing push-ups and she put a weighted plate on my back as part of my progression,” McAndrew explains. “I felt a pop in my neck that quickly turned into what seemed like a knot back there. I’d had muscle knots before, but this seemed different.”

Shrugging it off, she and her trainer continued with the workout followed by foam rolling of her cervical spine (neck). Her discomfort grew more intense, so she scheduled a massage which did not generate any relief. Making matters worse, she contracted COVID which, looking back, she feels may have contributed to an increase in inflammation and symptoms.

Just weeks after the gym injury, her pain was so severe that she had trouble sleeping and sitting. Only standing gave her relief. Then, other strange symptoms started: pain up her neck, down her back, throbbing in her upper arm, and numbness in her fingers. Scared, she went to an urgent care provider.

“They ordered x-rays of my shoulder and sent me home with Advil and Tylenol,” McAndrew explains. “Eventually I moved up to steroid injections and physical therapy – but all for my shoulder and nothing helped.”

Finding the right doctor

Finally, she went for an MRI which showed a severe cervical disc herniation that was pressing on her spinal nerves. A provider explained that her symptoms were classic for this condition. He recommended that she consult with a spine surgeon.

“I’m pretty thorough, especially when it comes to my health, so I met with four spine surgeons in Chicago,” McAndrew says. “Dr. Frank Phillips of Midwest Orthopaedics at RUSH was my last and best one.”

McAndrew had confidence in Dr. Phillips right away. When he explained and recommended a cervical disc replacement as opposed to motion-limiting fusion surgery, she listened carefully.

Cervical disc replacement

Dr. Phillips explained that cervical discs are the cushions that lie between the vertebrae in the neck. They function as shock absorbers which allow the neck to move freely. The cervical spine also forms a protective tunnel for the upper part of the spinal cord to pass through. This part of the spinal cord contains nerves that supply the upper extremities with sensation and movement. This explained her upper extremity tingling and numbness.

Cervical disc replacement surgery involves removing the diseased or damaged disc that is compressing the nerve and replacing it with an artificial disk. Before this procedure was approved, the affected disc was removed, and the vertebrae above and below were fused together which typically freed patients from pain but reduced mobility in the neck.

In addition to his experience with the cervical disc procedure, McAndrew also appreciated that Dr. Phillips was one of the physicians who helped research, test, and participate as a principal investigator in FDA studies on cervical disc replacements and that he was an international expert in minimally invasive spinal procedures and deeply respected.

“I felt completely at ease going into surgery,” McAndrew says. “Dr. Phillips assured me that my pain, tingling and numbness would be relieved immediately after surgery. What really made me happy was that he assured me that I would be able to comfortably attend my friend’s wedding in Mexico later that month.”

Doctor’s promises came true

Within 20 minutes of waking post-surgery, McAndrew had no pain and got up on her own to walk around the outpatient surgery center. She returned home the same day with no pain medication or need for physical therapy. Later that month, she flew to Playa del Carmen, Mexico where they enjoyed the wedding and a well-deserved vacation. Just three months after surgery, she was happily back in the gym resuming her strength training.

“I don’t regret this surgery for a second,” McAndrew says.

If you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss cervical disc replacement with Dr. Frank Phillips, visit or call 877-632-6637.