Driving after surgery

  • February 20, 2023
  • Orthopaedic Surgeon
Rotator Cuff Tear | Dr Jason Ward | Orthopaedic Surgeon

Driving after surgery

If you are considering driving after surgery, it is worth noting that after most orthopaedic surgical procedures, you will experience challenges that affect your ability to drive. There are no specific regulations for driving after surgery, but returning to safe driving is dictated by your individual situation.  This includes the type of surgery,  your physical and mental capacity, and your individual recovery.

Hip Surgery - Dr Jason Ward

Before returning to driving after surgery, aim for:

  • Minimal pain experienced during driving motions
  • No use of an arm sling or leg splint
  • Adequate range of motion of the shoulder
  • Reasonable upper limb strength
  • Un-compromised reaction time
  • Not using crutches for mobilisation

Questions to ask yourself before recommencing driving:

  1. Will my recovery be negatively affected by my driving?
  2. Can I control my vehicle in an emergency?
  3. Am I physically able to perform driving manoeuvres, or is my capacity restricted?
  4. Has my surgery and recovery affected my driving judgement? For example, am I taking pain medication which disrupts my judgement and reaction time?

Returning to driving after surgery also depends on:

  • Your vehicle type (transmission and power steering)
  • Driving conditions (lighting, road quality and weather)
  • Journey length
  • Your current medication intake
  • Your post-surgery pain level
  • Your physical ability
  • Your judgement and decision-making capacity

Driving and opioid pain medication

It is likely that you will be consuming pain relief medication after your surgery. Typically, these medications (opioids) are also sedatives, which mean they have similar effects to alcohol, and will impair your ability to drive a vehicle. Your reaction time, concentration and judgement will be affected by these strong pain medications.  Do not drive when under the influence of opioid medicines.

Testing your post-surgery driving abilities

It is a good idea to test your driving abilities in a safe environment like an empty car park before recommencing driving on the road. Here, you should practice all manoeuvres required for safe driving (including emergency stops), and should only think about recommencing road driving after you can perform all actions comfortably.

Insurance Considerations

After surgery, you may not be covered by your normal car insurer if:

  • you are wearing a brace or cast when driving and are involved in an accident
  • you are under the influence of strong pain relief (including opioids) and your judgement and concentration is deemed to be affected
  • a reasonable time has not passed since your surgery

Speaking directly to your insurer regarding limitations imposed following surgical procedures is strongly advised.

Guidelines for specific types of surgery

Each surgery may have different post-procedure driving recommendations. This discussion relates to your individual situation and guidelines may not be the same for each patient. Talk to Dr Jason Ward about your specific condition if you have any questions.

Driving After Shoulder Surgery

Most shoulder procedures will require a sling to be worn for 4-6 weeks.  Driving is not permitted during this time.  Reducing use of the sling and building strength in the arm can take 3 to 6 months, and caution with driving needs to be taken during this recovery period.  Expect to begin with short, low intensity trips and then slowly return to your usual driving habits over this period.

Driving After Hip or Knee Replacement Surgery

Lower limb joint replacement surgery is a major procedure and will impact your ability to drive.  Patients are generally unable to drive for a minimum of 6 weeks after lower limb joint replacement. Return to driving may take longer, depending on your progress with rehabilitation.  It is a very common goal of rehabilitation to build up adequate strength and mobility to facilitate driving and regain independence.

Driving After Arthroscopic Surgery

You are able to return to driving when your physical ability allows it.  Patients may be able to return to driving in the days after surgery, however if a more complex procedure has been undertaken it may be up to 4-6 weeks before driving capability returns.

Please ask Dr Jason Ward any questions regarding your individual return to driving.

Scroll to Top