How Soon Can You Drive After Cervical Spine Surgery?

When the cervical spine specialists at our spine specialty practice in New Jersey see patients, the first thing that they generally do after completing an examination and diagnosis is to see whether conservative approaches such as medication, exercise or physical therapy will provide the pain relief that patients need. In most cases, the non-invasive treatment works, but there are occasions when we have to recommend that they undergo cervical spine surgery.

That recommendation is quickly followed by a slew of questions about the surgery itself, as well as about what patients can expect from recovery.

One of the most important questions that they want answered is how soon they will be able to return to driving after surgery.

The truth is that there is no single answer to that question. Much will depend upon the surgery that you are having and your own healing time, and that is true for patients all over the country. In fact, not too long ago physicians decided to survey their colleagues in the Cervical Spine Research Society to determine whether there was any kind of consensus as to their recommendations or thoughts about the return of driving ability. The same survey asked what spine surgeon recommendations were for the use of post-operative cervical collars, as those supports have a direct impact on whether a patient can drive.

The surveys were handed out to 98 specialists, 80% of whom were orthopedic spine surgeons and the rest were neurosurgeons. Of those 98, 71 completed the form and returned it so that their answers could be analyzed. Most of those who participated agreed that cervical spine surgery patients could go back to driving between two and six weeks after surgery, with 40% advising a two-week wait after patients had undergone a one or two-level disc replacement.

For those whose surgery involved more than two levels or who’d had laminectomy and fusion, six weeks was the most common recommendation.  Notably, four in ten of the surgeons allowed their patients to resume driving in less than two weeks following either single disk replacement or foraminotomy. There was a similar broad range of recommendations regarding the use of a soft collar, with 42% not using a collar at all following single-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion,27% using a hard collar and 31% using a soft collar. Interestingly, the more years of experience a surgeon had, the more likely they were to permit their patients to drive less than two weeks after undergoing a surgery, including those involving more than two levels.

This survey is far from having the scientific controls of a clinical study, but consensus can be a useful way to gauge best practices. For our patients, we take many factors into consideration, including the severity of pain that the patient is feeling, their range of motion, and others into our recommendations. If you would like to discuss this or any other issue surrounding cervical spine treatment, please contact us to set up a time for a consultation.

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