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Home > How Soon After Cervical Spine Surgery Can I Drive & Work?

How Soon After Cervical Spine Surgery Can I Drive & Work?

dr. jeffrey carlson

Jeffrey R. Carlson, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAOS

Patients who are preparing for cervical spine surgery have many important aspects of their life to consider, especially about their recovery period. My patients frequently bombard me with questions regarding day-of-surgery preparations and dos-and-don’ts, including “when do I need to arrive for my surgery,” “what should I wear the day of surgery?” and “when will I be able to eat after surgery?”  These are typical questions that will be asked and answered in our early discussions about the surgery.

Another common concern for patients undergoing cervical spine surgery is their range of motion following surgery and how that will impact their ability to drive and work once they’ve undergone the procedure. 

Range of Motion Following Cervical Spine Surgery: What to Expect

A normal concern for patients is the consequences of neck (cervical) surgery on their range of motion after surgery. The most common surgery I perform in the cervical spine (neck) is to remove a disc herniation (rupture of the disc material) off a nerve that has been compressed or pinched by that material. That pinching can cause pain, dysfunction, numbness, tingling and weakness in the neck, shoulder and down the arm.

The procedure involves an incision on the front of the neck, moving the trachea and esophagus, exposing the disc herniation, and removing the offending disc material off the nerve. After the pressure on the nerve is relieved, the surgeon will need to put something in the space to replace the removed disc material. This can be done with a bone graft and plate (fusion) with a special device called a disc replacement. The fusion keeps the bones stable and doesn’t allow them to move. The disc replacement implant will allow the vertebrae to move normally.

Patients sometimes get concerned about the potential loss of motion from cervical spine fusion and their post-surgical ability to turn their head or move it up and down. Even more so, they wonder how much pain they will have after surgery and how the surgery may impact their daily life, with activities like driving or working. A recently published study in Spine (December 15, 2023) has helped to objectively answer these questions. 

Driving & Returning to Work Following Cervical Spine Surgery

The surgeons followed 140 patients that had undergone cervical spine surgery and found 98% of them were back to driving within 16 days and 86% of fusion patients and 91% of disc replacement patients were back to work within 16 days. They also found that 98% of their patients were off their pain medication within seven days. This study helps patients in planning and preparing for their cervical spine surgery by knowing that the average recovery is about two weeks.

As expected, there is a slight benefit to the motion-preserving benefits of a cervical spinal disc replacement compared to a cervical spinal fusion, but overall, both are highly successful surgeries for patients. Both surgeries are done on an outpatient basis, so there is no need for a hospital stay, which decreases healthcare costs.

The study also explains that even though patients experience some surgical pain, most do not need pain medication for more than one week. Surgical technique is very important, so choosing a surgeon that performs both surgeries with a minimally invasive outpatient approach will provide your best opportunity to get back to life as quickly as possible.

Ready to Start Feeling Better? 

Cervical spine surgery can be intimidating, but it can also be the first step on your path back towards feeling your best. The team of spine experts at Orthopaedic & Spine Center (OSC) are ready to help you on your journey – from answering your questions before surgery to helping with rehabilitation so you can get back to your everyday activities as soon as possible. 

Give us a call today at (757) 596-1900 to schedule an appointment with our spine specialists. You can also learn more about the spine services we offer here.

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