When will I be back to my normal activities? Driving

Dr. Paul Saiz
Mesa, AZ
Typically normal activities can be obtained immediately after a neck fusion surgery. There will be some associated soreness but typical activities of daily living can be initiated within one to two weeks. Driving is dependent on the use of narcotics. If a large amount of narcotics are required postoperatively then driving is not recommended.
Dr. W. Christopher Urban
Glen Burnie, MD
Most light activities, such as bathing, walking, and desk type jobs, can be resumed within the first week after surgery. More vigorous activities are temporarily restricted to promote bony fusion. Most of my fusion patients are prescribed a cervical collar for the first 6-12 weeks to limit their mobility while the bone heals. During this time, driving, heavy labor, and excessive neck movement should be avoided.
Dr. Dennis G. Crandall
Mesa, AZ
Most people return to normal activities including driving by 6 – 9 weeks, depending on the surgery.
Dr. Moe R. Lim
Chapel Hill, NC
This depends on your surgeon’s preferences. I usually allow patients to drive after the collar has been removed and when good painless mobility has been achieved. Most patients return to their daily activities after 1 to 2 weeks. I advise my patients to wait longer to return to more strenuous activities (up to 3 months and/or when the fusion is solid).
Dr. Timothy C. Ryken
Iowa City, IA
Typically, if you respond well to surgery, my estimate is four to six weeks following spinal surgery. This is, of course, extremely variable.
Dr. Jeffrey C. Wang
Los Angeles, CA
After surgery the patients return to a great deal of their normal activities; however, they are typically wearing a cervical collar. It is removed approximately four weeks after surgery after which time the patient can begin to drive and undergo a course of physical therapy and return to normal activities.
Dr. David S. Baskin
Houston, TX
This also varies from doctor to doctor. In general, most people can return to work and mild activities, including driving, in two weeks, sometimes even sooner. I prefer that people avoid vigorous exercise for six weeks. If your doctor wants you to wear a collar, driving is not recommended until the collar can be safely removed.
Dr. Sebastian Lattuga
Rockville Centre, NY
In general, the average patient can resume driving and exercising within one to two weeks. Depending on the physical demands of their employment, they may return to work anywhere from several days to six weeks post surgery.
Dr. Kambiz Hannani
Los Angeles, CA
You are able to walk and do daily activities shortly after surgery. Driving depends on when your neck collar is removed, and when you are no longer taking pain medications, which can impair your driving ability.
Dr. Rick Sasso
Indianapolis, IN
That is mainly dependent upon, number one, whether your own bone is used, and number two, whether you have to wear a collar. My patients, if they have allograft bone used and they have a plate put on so they don't have to wear a collar, I let them go back to their normal activities as quick as they want to go back. And they can return to driving activities actually the next day if they feel appropriate.
Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein
New York, NY
People can return to driving generally within a weeks provided they feel well and they have little discomfort. As far as sports, especially any high impact sports, and jogging I recommend that people do not return to that for a minimum of two to three months. At least until I can document that the fusion has taken place. Many activities can be returned to within a week or two but it's the high impact activities, or activities that are associated with acceleration or deceleration, which can compromise the fusion or the plate and screws, which we try to avoid until that fusion is solid. We follow the fusion with x-rays to determine when it is healed. Even under those circumstances I won't even consider it for less than two to three months and until I can demonstrate it's an absolutely solid fusion otherwise it's between 6 months and a year for any type of contact sports.
Dr. Kevin Yoo
Escondido, CA
You should be able to return to your normal level of activity two to four weeks after surgery. It will take longer if your course of treatment involves a multi-level fusion or if you are an older patient with other medical problems. Most surgeons tell their patients to wait one to two weeks before they resume driving.
Dr. Douglas Slaughter
Mesa, AZ
This depends upon the number of levels fused; however, most patients can get back to some reasonable level of activity within a few weeks.
Dr. Brian Subach
Atlanta, GA
Most people are able to walk and carry out normal activities immediately after surgery. Heavy lifting (>20 lbs.) should be avoided until cleared by your surgeon. Most people should not drive in a neck brace or if they require pain medications.
Dr. John Peloza
Dallas, TX
It depends on what type of surgery is done and what your individual physician feels is necessary. In general, cervical instrumentation is very rigid in fixing the spine. Most surgeons would add a collar just to protect the fusion site, even with metal, for the early period after the surgery. These collars are generally a combination of a soft inner lining and a more stiff plastic outer shell. They are not rigid fixation; they just help support the neck to decrease the forces on the graft site metal. If no metal is used during the fusion, then you would absolutely have to use an external collar or brace. If the surgery just involves a soft tissue operation in the cervical spine, such as a posterior discectomy/foraminotomy, you would probably have a soft collar for symptomatic support for the first several days after the surgery. This collar offers no real immobilization of the spine; it simply rests the posterior musculature that the patient is more comfortable after the retraction of the posterior musculature.
Dr. Allan Levi
Miami, FL
Some patients do require a collar after surgery. The decision of whether to wear a collar and how long it should be worn, needs to be made between the patient and the surgeon in a collaborative way.
Dr. Theodore A. Belanger
Charlotte, NC
The biggest limitations with regard to activities and driving come from wearing a collar and taking sedating pain medicines. If you are on narcotic pain medicines or wearing a collar, it is not safe to drive, as your ability to see your environment and respond to emergencies is impaired. Most patients will be out of a collar and off of narcotic pain medicines within 6 weeks of surgery. Your spine specialist will be able to tell you what to expect in this regard.
Dr. Joseph Alexander
Winston-Salem, NC
This depends somewhat on the characteristics of the patient, the underlying condition that was treated, and the surgical technique chosen. For certain patients, they may be able to drive and resume administrative duties at work within as little as a few days. More active pursuits and recreation may be postponed for weeks or a few months. Heavy labor or strenuous activities may have to be avoided for an even longer period of time.
Dr. B. Theo Mellion
Carbondale, IL
It will depend upon the surgeon who does the operation, whether or not a plate is used, and the type of bone used. Some surgeons will use collars up to 6 weeks, while other surgeons will use collars for a few weeks. For a one-level anterior approach with a plate, a collar is rarely necessary.
Dr. Randy Davis
Glen Burnie, MD
Our standard protocol at the present time requires that the patient be wearing their collar for six weeks following the surgery. Because of the restrictions of mobility we do not recommend that the patient drive during this time. We certainly do encourage early walking and ambulation but we would like to minimize any bending or flexion of the neck during the first six week to three-month period.
Dr. Robert S. Pashman
Los Angeles, CA
Patients may resume normal activities when they have recovered full coordination and are experiencing minimal pain.
Dr. Mark R. McLaughlin
Princeton, NJ
I let my patients go back to driving in two weeks after surgery and normal activities usually in 4-6 weeks. This is highly variable and you should discuss this with your spine surgeon.
Dr. Mark Testaiuti
Haddonfield, NJ
This varies with the surgery performed. In general "normal activities" can resume in 6-12 weeks except for high-risk activities (contact sports, high fall, and whiplash potential, etc.). Usually these are not advisable after fusion surgery. Your results may vary depending on fusion success and individual circumstances. Some might be able to return to less physically demanding work in as little as two weeks once swelling, swallowing and hip pain have improved. Driving is more difficult to determine and is based in individual needs and circumstances. A good rule of thumb is when the collar is off and good mobility has returned without pain, it is safe to drive.
Dr. Daniel Resnick
Madison, WI
You will be able to go back to normal activities like exercising and driving when you feel like it unless you have a collar. You cannot drive in a cervical collar as it limits your ability to turn your head and detect motion off to the sides. In general, patients who have anterior cervical discectomies with plates placed are usually driving with in a week or so. We ask the patients to not drive unless they are off pain medications and are feeling comfortable enough to drive.
Dr. Sean Salehi
Chicago, IL
Patients are encouraged to ambulate the same day. The majority of patients can return to desk-work in 10-14 days. The same time period is true for driving (after 2 weeks).

The commentary above recounts the experiences of these physicians. Medtronic invited them to share their stories candidly. Keep in mind that results vary; not every patient's response is the same. Talk with your doctor to learn more about any products that are mentioned above.

It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications and benefits of spinal surgery with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your doctor's judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.

Published: May 04, 2007
Updated: April 19, 2010