WWE Divas champion Nikki Bella is expecting to make a full recovery from the spinal fusion surgery she had at the end of January. Spine surgeons fused her C6 and C7 vertebrae to treat a disc herniation in her cervical spine. The Divas champhas been very open with her fans on social media, tweeting pictures of herself before and after the surgery. By all accounts she seems in good spirits and is recovering nicely.
Based on historical accounts, Ms. Bella apparently experienced pain in her cervical spine as early as July 2015. Even though her career requires her to participate in highly choreographed fight scenarios, the job is anything but low contact. It is completely understandable why a certain degree of neck pain would be considered part of the job.
However, results from an MRI performed in October 2015 showed that Nikki Bella had a disc herniation at the bottom of her cervical spine. The disc herniation occurs when part of the intervertebral disc pushes out from its normal anatomy. When the disc moves out of its normal anatomy, it can press on surrounding nerves, causing cervical radiculopathy. Cervical radiculopathy, in turn, is a condition in which the spinal nerve root becomes dysfunctional causing pain, weakness, exaggerated reflexes, and abnormal sensations.
From published reports, it seems as if Nikki Bella’s main symptom was pain. Indeed, cervical disc herniation can be quite painful if it presses on the spinal nerve roots.
It is unclear whether conservative therapy was tried before surgery. Given that the diagnosis was made in October and surgery did not occur for three months, Ms. Bella’s surgeons may have attempted conservative treatment.
Conservative therapy for cervical radiculopathy includes:
- Oral pain medications
- A short course of oral corticosteroids
- Cervical traction
- A hard or soft cervical collar to keep the neck immobilized
- Physical therapy
It is also standard during this time for patients to avoid provocative activities. For the WWE Divas champ, this probably means most of her training routines and especially competition in the ring.
Surgery for cervical radiculopathy and cervical disc herniation may be considered if the patient experiences severe symptoms or if conservative therapy fails to relieve symptoms after 6 to 8 weeks.
Other groups have proposed more stringent indications for cervical disc herniation surgery. A patient is considered a candidate for spinal fusion surgery if
- They have symptoms and signs cervical radiculopathy (nerve root pain and/or) dysfunction
- MRI evidence of cervical nerve root compression
- Persistent pain even after 6 to 12 weeks of conservative therapy OR
- Weakness that gets worse over time
We may never know if Nikki Bella experienced these symptoms, though we must imagine her cervical disc herniation was severe enough to warrant spinal fusion surgery.
While professional wrestling is as much illusion as it is sport, all indications are that the WWE Divas champ is surrounded by loving family and friends. Nikki is receiving help from excellent medical professionals and appears to be following all recommendations. Obviously, she takes her physical health very seriously and we expect her to do well in her recovery
We wish Nikki Bella all the best in her recovery spinal fusion surgery after cervical disc herniation. While she will be out of the ring for at least six months during recovery, we sincerely hope Nikki is able to return to the sport she loves.
- Ellenberg MR, Honet JC, Treanor WJ. Cervical radiculopathy. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. Mar 1994;75(3):342-352.
- Carette S, Fehlings MG. Cervical Radiculopathy. New England Journal of Medicine. 2005;353(4):392-399. doi:doi:10.1056/NEJMcp043887