Driving after an orthopedic injury or surgery

One of the most frequently asked questions after a medical procedure is “When can I start driving again?” Concerns are even greater when the procedure is associated with an orthopaedic injury.

As the orthopedic injury heals, you may not be allowed to move the injured body part for long periods of time. This is especially true if you have had surgery or are nursing a severe fracture.

This article explains the factors that affect when you can drive again after certain types of orthopedic surgery and steps to recover. It also discusses your doctor’s role in helping you determine when you’re ready to drive.

When can I drive?

There are many factors you need to consider when determining whether it is safe to start driving after surgery.

you have taken sedatives

You should not drive for at least 24 hours after taking any sedative medication. This includes general anesthesia and conscious sedation. These drugs will not make you fully awake, but they will reduce your consciousness and are used for pain relief. With the anesthetic drug isoflurane, it is recommended that you wait longer, from two to four days.

Driving restrictions may also be required while taking prescription opioids after surgery. In fact, in some cases, you may be charged with “Driving under the Influence of Drugs” (DUID) if you are stopped by police and have been using opioids.

Knowledge about driving and anesthesia

limited range of motion

With few exceptions, you cannot drive if your body joints are in a hard brace or cast. This makes the joint unable to move or bend at all. As studied in one study, even joints that are partially restricted by soft braces or bandages can limit your range of motion too much to drive safely.

Being able to move your neck, spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, ankles and feet is essential. If your movement is compromised by braces or stiffness, your reaction time will be much slower when trying to brake. A movement disorder can delay checking your mirrors or avoiding an accident.

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Exceptions may include injuries to the left knee, ankle or foot. In these situations, you may be able to drive safely if your car is automatic (meaning you don’t need to shift with your left leg) and the injury doesn’t change the way you sit in your seat.

How to measure range of motion

you are going through pain

Pain that limits your mobility can affect your driving. As with braces, pain can cause you to move more slowly, increasing your risk of an accident. If your pain comes and goes, it can still be dangerous, because a sudden, unexpected tingling can cause you to turn, put more pressure on the gas, or be distracted. All of these reactions can lead to road problems.


Anesthesia or other sedative drugs can affect driving for at least 24 hours. If you are taking opioid pain relievers, you may not be able to drive until you stop using them. If any joint is placed in a cast or brace, even a soft brace or bandage, you should avoid driving as your range of motion is still limited. Do not drive if you are in pain, as it can cause you to become suddenly distracted or unable to move freely.

doctor’s advice

Discuss with your doctor whether you are ready to start driving after surgery. If you are under anesthesia, there should be specific restrictions related to the type of medication you are taking. Your doctor should also tell you if it is safe to drive while taking any prescription medications.

However, despite what some may tell you, you don’t need a formal medical “license” or “release” to drive a car. Deciding whether you’re ready to drive shouldn’t depend on getting your doctor’s permission.

Although doctors can suggestion Their opinion has no legal effect as to whether you are ready to drive the vehicle.

Insurance Requirements

If you resume driving after an injury or surgery, you may want to check with your insurance company to make sure they are satisfied that you can drive safely. Many insurance companies may not cover you if you have an accident while wearing a cast or brace, if you are taking pain medication, if you have an unhealed fracture, or if you have had surgery “recently” (they require you define what they consider “nearest”), some will.

legal decision

The only way to legally confirm that you are capable of driving is to take a test at a properly trained licensed institution. This is usually arranged through your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Department of Transportation (DOT).

If you have experienced long-term recovery, you may need an evaluation from the DMV or DOT. If you drive for a living, you may need to take this step to demonstrate that you are able to return to work. It may also be necessary if you are permanently damaged and need confirmation that the injury will not affect your ability to drive.


There are no set rules about when you can resume driving after surgery or injury. Your doctor can provide guidance on when you will be healed and no longer under the influence of your medication, but if you need official approval to be able to drive, you may need to arrange for an assessment or point of your driving skills through your local DMV. You may also want to check with your insurance company about special driving restrictions after surgery or injury.

mean time to recovery

How long you can drive after surgery varies from person to person. However, some research provides insight into which injuries are most important to watch out for when deciding whether you’re ready to drive again.

In reviewing 48 studies covering 20 common orthopaedic procedures, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia made the following observations:

  • Fractures of the right ankle: usually return to normal function a week after the cast is removed.
  • Fractured right foot: It took an average of six weeks to gain proper control while braking.
  • Surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): It takes 4 to 6 weeks for the right knee and 2 weeks for the left knee before the patient can drive again.
  • Postoperative fracture of the right knee, ankle, thigh, or calf bone: After six weeks of weight-bearing therapy, the patient can reasonably resume driving.
  • Cast on the left arm under the elbow: This adds an average of 16.2 seconds to the driving response time.
  • The cast extends over the left elbow: This adds 22.2 seconds to the response time.
  • Rotator cuff repair surgery: It takes two to four months to reasonably regain mobility.
  • Shoulder replacement: It takes at least one to three months to return to 55% of preoperative capacity.
  • Spinal decompression: This requires a two-week recovery period.
  • Cervical Disc Replacement: This usually requires a six-week driving restriction.
  • Carpal tunnel surgery on the right or left wrist: Recovery takes about 9 days.
  • Lumbar fusion surgery: Patients can usually resume driving soon after the effects of the anesthesia wear off.


Everyone’s journey to recovery from surgery or orthopaedic injury is unique. There are some general guidelines on how long it will take to resume driving after different types of surgery, but ultimately, you need to make a decision based on your individual needs and abilities.

However, if you have been treated with anesthesia or other medications, there are certain restrictions that must be followed. If you have limited movement or pain in a part of your body, you may need to avoid prolonged driving. This is because slow response times and limited range of motion put you at risk of an accident.

Your doctor can advise you when it may be safe to drive, but you should also consider your insurance company’s guidelines. If you need legal proof that you are capable of driving, you will need an assessment through your DMV or DOT.