Get ready to hit the road with confidence! Whether you’re recovering from knee surgery or just looking to brush up on your skills, we’ve got you covered with our guide on Driving After Knee Replacement.
If only the human body were more like a car. When a part wears out, you could go to the shop and swap it out, allowing you to keep going long after sidelining injuries. A knee replacement may be as close as you get to that “Jetson’s” fantasy — and it does make driving interesting.
The human animal is infinitely more complex than the most modern vehicles, and surgery is an intricate procedure that requires significant recovery time. However, many patients find that their quality of life improvements after the procedure more than compensate for the temporary inconvenience.
This surgery will undoubtedly impact those who live to explore. Traveling and driving after a knee replacement requires the right approach. How soon can you travel by car after your procedure? Here’s what you need to know.
Patients typically undergo knee replacement surgery to combat the pain and disability associated with osteoarthritis. It’s not the first line of attack, but when non-surgical interventions fail, your doctor may recommend the procedure.
During the operation, your surgeon makes an incision above the knee to remove diseased and damaged bone and cartilage. They then insert replacement parts along your thighbone, shinbones and kneecap.
After your surgery, your medical team will recommend early movement — don’t expect to languish in bed. You’ll work with a physiatrist, a trained medical doctor who will design a custom treatment plan, often carried out by physical therapists. Most patients resume normal activities in six weeks, although you may need crutches occasionally for up to three months and have mild swelling for a year.
Here’s the kicker — immediately after knee replacement, travel is tricky. You’ll have to keep the area safe and immobilized while not in therapy, meaning you’ll wear a brace or a cast.
Anyone who has driven anywhere knows these restrictions would make it difficult to get in and out of a vehicle, let alone drive one.
However, you’ll likely have to do some limited travel following surgery. You’ll only stay in the hospital for one or two days, after which you need to get to therapy appointments. While some insurance plans offer home visits, not all do.
While situations vary, you should probably stay out of airports for at least six weeks while you recover. After the initial healing period, you’ll have to remain aware of your changed reality and ask the airline for accommodations when necessary.
- Metal detectors: 90% of knee replacements set off airport metal detectors. Fortunately, you won’t need a special note from your doctor. Simply inform the TSA official of your surgery, and they will perform a manual scan with a wand and pat.
- A little help: Airports can be huge places, and walking long distances can put strain on your knees, even six weeks past surgery. Contact your airline in advance — they can often arrange a cart to take you from the bag check to your gate.
Once you feel fully healed, there’s no limit on your travel after knee replacement. Go ahead and book that February trip to Paris. For example, many knee replacement patients can finally travel around the country or the world for the first time in decades — visiting various relatives instead of being kept home bound by pain.
Resuming driving after a knee replacement is a bit trickier. The problem compounds because of two factors ± the type of car you drive and the knee you had replaced.
If it’s your left knee, and you drive an automatic, like the vast majority of today’s cars, you’re in luck. You won’t need to put pressure on the pedals with that leg, allowing you to resume driving after a knee replacement much more quickly. Your replaced knee is just a passenger along for the ride.
However, the process takes longer if you had your right knee replaced — or if you are one of the few rare birds still flying around with a standard transmission. In such cases, let your body be your guide.
You should wait the standard six weeks to heal, meaning you’ll need to find transportation to and from your physical therapy appointments. Some physicians may give you the OK after four weeks if you’re a rapid healer. However, if you have lingering issues or complications, you could find driving uncomfortable for several months post-op.
Tips for driving after knee replacement
In the meantime, you need practical tips for traveling after a knee replacement — after all, you must get to therapy somehow. Here are some tips to follow as a passenger and when you get back behind the wheel.
- If possible, climb aboard from an equal surface, like the curb, so you don’t have to step up or down.
- Have your driver move the seat back as far as possible before you arrive at the door.
- Low-rider cars can pose problems, as can monster trucks that require climbing. Consider renting an average-height car or using a medical transport service to take you to your appointments.
- Use a pillow to make slight adjustments on seats that are too low.
- When entering the vehicle, turn around so your knees align with the seat and sit down. Here, too, a pillow helps you change positions more readily.
- Rely on your driver — let them lift your legs into the vehicle for you.
- Break up long trips that can leave you stiff by stopping and getting out to walk every 45-60 minutes.
- Do simple exercises, like flexing your ankles, to prevent blood clots.
- Take pain medications before you start your trip.
- Let your driver position your legs on the ground and help you exit.
- Use your crutches or walker to help you stand.
- Pay attention to the weather. Driving after a knee replacement in winter is trickier because of the added risk of slips and falls from snow and ice.
The golden rule when you resume driving is to listen to your body. If driving causes significant discomfort, stop. Be aware that long trips may tax your strength and resist biting off more than you can comfortably chew at first.
If you have a bad case of wanderlust, you might wonder how soon you can travel after a knee replacement. Fortunately, you should be able to enjoy your favorite pastime with more zest after you make a full recovery.
While driving after a knee replacement can be tricky at first, it’s not impossible. Use the above tips to ensure a more comfortable ride, wherever life takes you.