When Is It Safe to Return to Driving After Spinal Surgery?
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Study Design Prospective study. Objective Surgeons' recommendations for a safe return to driving following cervical and lumbar surgery vary and are based on empirical data. Driver reaction time (DRT) is an objective measure of the ability to drive safely. There are limited data about the effect of cervical and lumbar surgery on DRT. The purpose of our study was to use the DRT to determine when the patients undergoing a spinal surgery may safely return to driving. Methods We tested 37 patients' DRT using computer software. Twenty-three patients (mean 50.5 ± 17.7 years) received lumbar surgery, and 14 patients had cervical surgery (mean 56.7 ± 10.9 years). Patients were compared with 14 healthy male controls (mean 32 ± 5.19 years). The patients having cervical surgery were subdivided into the anterior versus posterior approach and myelopathic versus nonmyelopathic groups. Patients having lumbar spinal surgery were subdivided by decompression versus fusion with or without decompression and single-level versus multilevel surgery. The patients were tested preoperatively and at 2 to 3, 6, and 12 weeks following the surgery. The use of opioids was noted. Results Overall, the patients having cervical and lumbar surgery showed no significant differences between pre- and postoperative DRT (cervical p = 0.49, lumbar p = 0.196). Only the patients having single-level procedures had a significant improvement from a preoperative DRT of 0.951 seconds (standard deviation 0.255) to 0.794 seconds (standard deviation 0.152) at 2 to 3 weeks (p = 0.012). None of the other subgroups had a difference in the DRT. Conclusions Based on these findings, it may be acceptable to allow patients having a single-level lumbar fusion who are not taking opioids to return to driving as early as 2 weeks following the spinal surgery.
driver reaction time
return to driving