The recovery time for a knee replacement is getting shorter and shorter as the pain control gets better, and the surgical techniques improve. Patients spend less time in the hospital, some patients actually spend no time in the hospital. Patients are requiring less and less physical therapy. But what about driving? Its an important part of almost everyones daily living. Its hard to return to a normal lifestyle until you can return to driving.
Have the advances in surgical technique and pain control shortened the time until driving?
One important statement to make is that driving is really delayed for people undergoing a RIGHT sided knee replacement because thats the leg used for braking. LEFT sided knee replacements are less affected and typically can return to driving when their strength has returned and they are no longer taking narcotic pain medication. So from here forward, we are referring to Right sided knee replacements.
Most surgeons recommend waiting 6-8 weeks after surgery. This is based on older studies. However a recent study, being released in the Journal of Arthroplasty, suggests that this timing can be moved forward. About 80% of patients returned to their pre-surgery brake response time by only 2 weeks after surgery. The remaining 20% all reached their normal brake response times by 4 weeks after surgery. This suggests that many patients are being made to wait to drive 2-4x longer than necessary.
Importantly, patients were also pretty good at recognizing their own limitations. If anything, they are conservative. Of the patients that returned to baseline at 2 weeks, 67% recognized that they were ready, 21% said they were not sure, and 12% felt they werent ready.
1. Dalury DF. When can I drive? brake response times after contemporary total knee arthroplasty. CORR 2011. see article.
2. Hernandez V et al. When is it safe for patients to return to drive after right total knee arthroplasty. J Arthro 2016. see article.
3. Marques CJ et al. Does the brake response time of the right leg change after left total knee arthroplasty? A prospective study. Knee 2008. see article. ok to return to driving at 10 days.
4. Spalding TJW et al. Driver reaction times after total knee replacement. JBJS Br 1994. see article. historic article recommending 8 weeks until start driving again.