Road to Recovery: How Soon Can You Drive After Back Surgery?

Driving is often synonymous with independence and freedom. However, after undergoing back surgery, the idea of getting behind the wheel cause some apprehension. Dr. Todd Lanman, a seasoned expert in spinal surgery, understands the importance of addressing these concerns. With years of experience and a deep understanding of the nuances of post-surgery recovery, he provides valuable insights on when and how to safely resume driving after back surgery. In this article, we aim to guide you on this journey and help you regain your driving independence.


Driving After Spine Surgery

Driving after back surgery is a crucial aspect of post-operative recovery. While the timeline for resuming driving is case-specific, certain factors must be considered:

Neck Range of Motion

After back surgery, especially in the cervical spine, it’s vital to assess your neck’s range of motion. Safe driving requires the ability to control the vehicle, turn your head, and react quickly. Ensure you have the necessary mobility and range of motion to handle these tasks.

Spinal Stress

Pay attention to your body’s signals. If you experience discomfort, pain, or any limitations while driving, it’s crucial to stop and seek medical advice. Specific considerations apply to lumbar surgery and the need for proper support.

Prescription Medications

Some patients may be prescribed pain medications or muscle relaxants after surgery. These medications can affect your alertness and reaction times, making it essential to consider how they may impact your ability to drive safely.

Pain Levels

Pain can be distracting and hinder your ability to focus while driving. Assess whether your pain levels are manageable and won’t compromise your safety on the road.

Surgeon’s Recommendations

Ultimately, follow your surgeon’s advice regarding when it is safe to resume driving. They possess the best understanding of your surgery’s intricacies and your individual progress.


What is the average time patients have to wait before driving after artificial disc replacement?

The average time patients have to wait before driving after artificial disc replacement varies depending on several factors, including the type of surgery, individual recovery, and surgeon’s recommendations. In general, patients may need to refrain from driving for several days to a few weeks post-surgery for cervical spine. Lumbar spine would be a few weeks at the earliest. It’s essential to follow your surgeon’s guidance and ensure you can safely control the vehicle. Watch Dr. Lanman as he discusses ADR recovery.


Are There Some Ways to Increase Your Recovery Process?

Yes, there are ways to enhance your recovery process, including specific exercises and stretching routines that can improve your driving posture and comfort. Consult with your healthcare provider for personalized recommendations.


Data on Driving After Back Surgery

Patients who underwent lumbar surgery, especially single-level surgery or decompression alone, did not show a significant difference in driver reaction time at their first postoperative visit compared to their preoperative driver reaction time.1 In some cases, driver reaction time actually improved, particularly in the single-level surgical group. In contrast to lumbar surgery, patients who had cervical surgery experienced a slight trend towards increased driver reaction time after the surgery.1 This trend was more pronounced in patients with myelopathy and chronic pain, indicating that their symptom resolution was not as immediate as in other cases. Patients on narcotics should not consider returning to driving, as the amount of narcotic used was not accounted for and may impact driver reaction time.

  1. Complexity of the Decision: The study acknowledges that driver reaction time is just one of many factors that affect a patient’s ability to drive. Surgeons should refrain from giving firm recommendations regarding the timing of returning to driving, as individual factors, disease severity, and medication usage vary among patients.

  2. Future Research: The study concludes that further research is needed, particularly for subgroups of patients undergoing more extensive surgeries, such as multilevel lumbar surgery and cervical surgery via the posterior approach. The study plans to recruit more patients and investigate driver reaction time over longer postoperative recovery periods.



In conclusion, the road to recovery after back surgery includes a crucial phase of resuming driving safely. Understanding your specific surgery, assessing your range of motion, managing pain, and following medical advice are paramount. Dr. Todd Lanman emphasizes the importance of patient safety and personalized care during this process. Consult with Dr. Lanman and explore the provided resources for further guidance on post-surgery recovery.




How can I make my car more comfortable for post-surgery driving?

  1. Use Proper Seat Cushions: Consider using orthopedic seat cushions or lumbar support cushions to help maintain the natural curve of your spine and reduce pressure on your lower back. These cushions can provide extra support and comfort during your drive.

  2. Adjust Your Car Seat: Ensure your car seat is adjusted correctly. Position the seat to maintain a neutral spine position, with your back against the seat and your feet reaching the pedals comfortably. Adjust the seat’s angle and lumbar support as needed.

  3. Steering Wheel Comfort: Set the steering wheel to a comfortable height and distance, so you can easily grip it without overreaching or straining your back and arms. Consider using a padded steering wheel cover for added comfort.

  4. Use Cruise Control: If your vehicle has cruise control, use it during long drives. This feature can reduce the need to keep your foot on the accelerator for extended periods, helping to minimize strain on your back and legs.

  5. Supportive Neck Pillow: For cervical spine surgery, consider using a neck pillow or cushion to support your neck and maintain proper alignment. This can help reduce neck discomfort during the drive.

  6. Plan for Breaks: On longer journeys, plan regular breaks to stretch, walk, and relax. Taking short breaks every hour or so allows you to relieve pressure on your spine and maintain comfort.

  7. Seat Warmers or Coolers: Many modern cars come equipped with seat warmers or coolers. Adjust the settings as needed to keep your back comfortable, especially in extreme temperatures.

  8. Easy-Access Items: Keep frequently used items within easy reach to avoid excessive twisting or bending. Consider using a car organizer to keep essential items readily accessible.

  9. Drive with Care: Drive cautiously and avoid sudden movements or jerky driving. Smooth and gentle driving can minimize jolts and shocks to your spine.

  10. Anti-Vibration Pads: Some vehicles offer anti-vibration or shock-absorbing systems that can be beneficial after back surgery. Check your car’s features and enable them if available.


What are the potential risks of driving too soon after spinal surgery?

  1. Limited Range of Motion: Depending on the type of spinal surgery, you may experience limitations in your range of motion, making it difficult to turn your head, check blind spots, or react quickly while driving. Reduced mobility can affect your ability to control the vehicle safely.

  2. Increased Pain and Discomfort: Driving too soon after surgery can exacerbate pain and discomfort. The vibrations and movements associated with driving can strain the surgical site and surrounding tissues, potentially leading to increased pain and a longer recovery period.

  3. Risk of Complications: Premature driving can increase the risk of post-operative complications, such as wound disruption or hardware failure. These complications may necessitate additional medical interventions and extended recovery periods. These are extremely rare!

  4. Inadequate Posture and Support: Inappropriate seating and lack of lumbar support in your car can negatively impact your posture, leading to discomfort and strain on your surgical site.

  5. Prolonged Recovery: Driving too soon can lead to setbacks in your recovery. Any complications or additional pain experienced while driving may extend the time it takes for you to fully heal and regain your pre-surgery level of function.


What are the common signs that I might not be ready to drive yet?

  1. Pain: If you experience significant pain while sitting in your car, starting the engine, or during the act of driving itself, it’s a clear sign that you may not be ready to drive. Pain can distract you from focusing on the road and hinder your ability to control the vehicle safely.

  2. Discomfort: Uncomfortable sensations, such as numbness, tingling, or aching in your surgical site or other parts of your body, may indicate that you’re not yet prepared to drive. Discomfort can affect your concentration and reaction times.

  3. Reduced Range of Motion: If you have difficulty turning your head to check your blind spots, change lanes, or look over your shoulder while reversing, it’s a strong indication that your range of motion may still be limited. Limited range of motion can impede your ability to drive safely.

  4. Muscle Weakness: Weakness in your back, arms, or legs can affect your ability to control the vehicle, grip the steering wheel, and operate the pedals effectively. Muscle weakness may compromise your safety while driving.

  5. Medications: Some pain medications, muscle relaxants, or other prescription drugs prescribed after surgery can cause drowsiness, dizziness, or impair your cognitive and motor skills. If you are taking these medications and experiencing side effects that affect your alertness, it’s not safe to drive.

  6. Stress and Anxiety: If you feel anxious, stressed, or nervous about driving after surgery, these emotional factors can negatively impact your ability to concentrate and react effectively. Your emotional well-being is as important as your physical condition when it comes to driving safely.

  7. Lack of Endurance: If you can only sit for short periods or experience fatigue or weakness during or after driving, you may not yet have the endurance required for safe and comfortable driving.

  8. Stiffness: Persistent stiffness in your back, neck, or limbs can hinder your ability to control the vehicle smoothly and respond to sudden changes in traffic or road conditions.

  9. Limited Reaction Time: Slowed reaction times, delayed reflexes, or difficulty multitasking may suggest that you are not yet prepared to drive safely. These factors are critical for navigating traffic and avoiding accidents.

  10. Disorientation or Confusion: If you find yourself easily disoriented or confused while driving or navigating your surroundings, it’s a strong indicator that you may not be ready to resume driving.

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