When can you drive again after a knee replacement? It’s one of the most common questions people ask before a replacement operation. And an understandable one. For anyone who relies on cars to get around – which is many of us – going without one isn’t a comfortable prospect.
So how will a knee replacement affect your ability to drive, and what’s the best advice about getting back behind the wheel? Here’s a quick guide to the ins and outs.
What does the general guidance say?
The short answer is that it’s hard to give an exact timescale. The NHS says you will be able to resume driving “when you can bend your knee enough to get in and out of a car and control the car properly.” In other words, you need to feel completely comfortable behind the wheel and be in full control of the car at all times. You’ll need to be able to perform an emergency stop, for example, without any discomfort or restriction.
When do most people get back to driving?
On average, people are able to drive about 6-8 weeks after a total knee replacement. A recent study profiled nearly 100 drivers post-operation. It found close to 80% were driving within six weeks, and none reported any deterioration in their driving ability. In fact, over a quarter said they’d noticed “a subjective improvement.” Which is encouraging! That said, recovery is a very subjective process. While some people will be ready in six weeks, others can take much longer.
What would hold me back?
The key thing to appreciate is that knee replacement is major surgery. You’ll be in hospital for up to three days after the op, on painkillers for at least 1-2 weeks and likely off work for several weeks. Your knee will feel unfamiliar at first, and it will take time to rebuild muscle strength, recover reaction times, and feel comfortable bending and walking on your new joint. It’s important to bear these things in mind as you consider a return to driving.
How will I know when I’m ready?
Again, knowing when you can be in full and safe control of the car is a very individual decision. The Royal College of Surgeons suggests discussing this with your physio first, then trying an exercise in your car (with no key in the ignition). “Simply sit in the driving seat and practise putting your feet down on the pedals… Build up gradually. If you feel pain, stop immediately. If you feel sore afterwards, you may need to wait a day or two and try again. Only when you can put enough pressure on the pedals to do an emergency stop – without feeling any reluctance or inhibition – should you think about driving again.”
Does it make any difference if I drive an automatic?
Depending on which knee is being operated on, it may do. Most drivers of automatic cars use their right foot to operate the brake and accelerator. If you had a left-knee replacement in this scenario, your recovery time could be quicker. But, again, bear in mind it will still take time to build strength and reaction times after the operation, and feel comfortable getting into and controlling the car.
What else do I need to consider?
There are a few other things you may need to think about before the operation.
Insurance – it’s a good idea to tell your insurance company about the surgery, because some companies won’t insure drivers for a certain number of weeks after their operation
Medication – you’ll need to make sure you’re free from the sedative effects of any painkillers or other medicines you might be taking when you resume driving
The DVLA – the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) says you must inform them “if you’ve had an operation and you’re still unable to drive 3 months later”: see the gov.uk website for more details
If you’re unsure about anything to do with driving after your knee replacement operation, have a chat with your doctor or physiotherapist. They’ll be able to offer advice and guidance as you plan your recovery. You can also discuss it with us too, of course; we’ll be happy to help. For more recommendations on recovering after knee replacement surgery, you may also find this article on our website useful: How long does it take to recover from a total knee replacement? A surgeon’s timeline.
Are you or a loved one considering knee replacement surgery but feeling uncertain about the next steps? Please get in touch with our team today. You can call us on 01962 826107, or make an appointment with Mr Bailey through our online booking form. We’ll be glad to help.