By 3 weeks, patients usually are cleared to do some light work around the home. Lifting items that weigh up to 10 pounds is now allowed. It’s still important to take breaks and rest if fatigue develops, however.

See Postoperative Care for Spinal Fusion Surgery

While the individual is likely to be feeling much better at this point, there may be some continuing arm numbness or weakness.

ACDF Recovery Time

Recovery time can vary widely. Some patients are able to return to work within a few days or a week after surgery. Others start physical therapy about four weeks after surgery, and continue for 2 or 3 months.

Typical Physical Therapy after ACDF

This is what the patient can typically expect at physical therapy:

  • Pain relief and inflammation are the key concerns at first. Ice, electrical stimulation, massage, and other treatments may be used to make the patient more comfortable.

    See Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators (TENS)

  • Gradually, more activity is added. Targeted exercises to strengthen and help the muscles that stabilize the back are incorporated. Patients are taught new, safer habits for doing routine activities and more physically demanding activities. The teaching of safer body movements is known as “body mechanics.”
  • Returning to work may also be a goal, and A physical therapist may work with the individual to develop changes that enable a safer return to the former job, if possible.

    See How a Physical Therapist Can Help with Exercise

Return to Work

When and if the individual returns to work will depend largely on the patient’s recovery as well as the type of work performed. Some may even be able to return to work as early as 3 or 4 days after surgery. The surgeon needs to be consulted on when to return to work and if any work modifications are required.

See Choosing the Right Ergonomic Office Chair


Long-term Success

X-rays help analyze the progress of spinal fusion.

The fusion should be solid by about 3 months, and the newly fused bone should continue to grow stronger for up to about a year. The surgeon may take X-rays to determine the fusion’s progress. By 3 months, the surgeon is likely to allow the patient to play sports such as golf or tennis; however, it will typically be a year before the patient is cleared to engage in contact sports or other activities that may impact the neck.

See How Much Neck Mobility Is Lost After Fusion Surgery?


It’s easy for an individual to slip back into old habits once the pain has eased. Recurrences of neck pain are common. Continuing with safe lifting techniques, good posture, and suitable exercise—and avoiding smoking—are good strategies to keep the pain from coming back.

Dr. David DeWitt is an orthopedic surgeon practicing at the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin, where he specializes in spine surgery. He has more than 15 years of experience evaluating and treating spine diseases and trauma.