Controlled mechanical ventilation (CMV) is known to result in rapid and severe diaphragmatic dysfunction, but the recovery response of the diaphragm to normal function after CMV is unknown. Therefore, we examined the time course of diaphragm function recovery in an animal model of CMV. Healthy rats were submitted to CMV for 24-27 h (n = 16), or to 24-h CMV followed by either 1 h (CMV + 1 h SB, n = 9), 2 h (CMV + 2 h SB, n = 9), 3 h (CMV + 3 h SB, n = 9), or 4-7 h (CMV + 4-7 h SB, n = 9) of spontaneous breathing (SB). At the end of the experiment, the diaphragm muscle was excised for functional and biochemical analysis. The in vitro diaphragm force was significantly improved in the CMV + 3 h SB and CMV + 4-7 h SB groups compared with CMV (maximal tetanic force: +27%, P < 0.05, and +59%, P < 0.001, respectively). This was associated with an increase in the type IIx/b fiber dimensions (P < 0.05). Neutrophil influx was increased in the CMV + 4-7 h SB group (P < 0.05), while macrophage numbers remained unchanged. Markers of protein synthesis (phosphorylated Akt and eukaryotic initiation factor 4E binding protein 1) were significantly increased (+40%, P < 0.001, and +52%, P < 0.01, respectively) in the CMV + 3 h SB and CMV + 4-7 h SB groups and were positively correlated with diaphragm force (P < 0.05). Finally, also the maximal specific force generation of skinned single diaphragm fibers was increased in the CMV + 4-7 h SB group compared with CMV (+45%, P < 0.05). In rats, reloading the diaphragm for 3 h after CMV is sufficient to improve diaphragm function, while complete recovery occurs after longer periods of reloading. Enhanced muscle fiber dimensions, increased protein synthesis, and improved intrinsic contractile properties of diaphragm muscle fibers may have contributed to diaphragm function recovery.