6 Tips for Driving After ACL Surgery – When Can I Drive?

You can drive after ACL surgery when you are confident and feel comfortable. This is different for everyone! 

Importantly, to drive after ACL surgery, you must be able to brake suddenly in case of an emergency! When you drive for the first time, it is important to have control of your right leg in particular.

A doctor or therapist can assist in providing individual advice as, essentially, driving after ACL surgery should be assessed on a case by case basis.

Generally speaking, it is thought that your reaction times can be impacted for the first 4 to 6 weeks after a knee reconstruction.

Hence, the key factors for determining when you can drive after surgery include your ability to perform an emergency stop and move your leg from side to side.  Plus, returning your reaction times to satisfactory levels.

A key benefit of driving after ACL surgery is that it can help patients return to their normal daily life early in their recovery timeline.  However, patients should only drive when it is safe to do so.

Driving-After-ACL-Surgery

It is not always obvious when it is safe to drive for the first time after ACL surgery, and it can be daunting for some people.  If you are unsure, try practising in a vacant car park until you feel confident.

There are no standard guidelines for when you can drive after ACL surgery, as everyone is different.

Top 6 Driving Tips After ACL Surgery

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 1-Driving is possible when you feel comfortable

You can drive when you are confident and feel comfortable doing so. There are no well established guidelines that we are aware of for when you can drive after ACL surgery.

Therefore, it is important to use common sense-don't rush to get behind the wheel and wait until you feel ready.  You may wish to try driving in a vacant parking lot to start with.

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 2 - You "must" be able to brake quickly

You must be able to brake quickly in case of an emergency.  As a result, it is critical to have control and function of your right leg in order to respond quickly to the car pedals in case a toddler runs out in front of you.

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 3 - Talk to your doctor

If you are unsure about when you can start driving again, then it might be helpful to have a conversation with your doctor to discuss your specific circumstances.

Factors for consideration include how long it has been since surgery, swelling, knee functionality, and use of medications. 

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 4 - Take more time with a right knee procedure

To drive a car, you primarily use your right leg to push the pedals.  A right knee procedure generally means it will take longer until it is safe to drive because you need to be able to quickly move your right leg from side to side .

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 5 - Arrange a lift home after surgery

Make sure you arrange a lift back home, such as through a family member or friend, after your ACL operation.  You are likely to be released from the hospital either on the same day as surgery or the next day.

Typically, it is advised to not drive a car or any other vehicle for 48 hours after your anaesthetic.

Driving after ACL surgery Tip 6 - Check your car insurance policy

Check with your car insurer if there are any restrictions on driving your car.

See below for more information on when you can drive after ACL surgery!

When you should not drive after ACL surgery

Firstly, do not drive yourself home after ACL surgery as your reaction times are likely to be impaired.  Arrange a lift home from the hospital, such as through a family member or friend.

As a general rule, you should not drive a car for 48 hours after an anaesthetic or if you are taking narcotic pain medication.

In the coming weeks post-surgery, if you are wearing a brace or cast on your right leg, then it goes without saying that this is going to impact your reaction times when driving a car.

It is fairly obvious that you should not be driving in those circumstances where your ability to brake in the car is restricted.

Narcotic pain medication can make you feel drowsy and groggy, and therefore, you should not drive if you are taking this medication during the daytime.

It would be preferable to take the painkiller medication at night to help you sleep.

Before you drive after ACL surgery, check your car insurance policy 

It is also advised that you check with your car insurance company prior to driving your car after ACL surgery.  It is possible that your insurance policy has periods of restrictions following surgery that you may not be aware of.   

On which side of your body was the knee procedure?

When you can drive after ACL surgery will also depend on which knee, left or right, you had operated on. If it was your left knee that was operated on and you have full use of your right leg, then you will be able to return to driving a car sooner.

This is compared to if you had your right knee operated on, which is the leg primarily used for driving a car, which means it will usually take a bit more time before you can drive after ACL surgery.

Driving after ACL surgery on your right knee

If it is a right knee procedure, then this is more of a problem as you primarily use the right leg for driving. Using the right leg for driving is generally the case for most vehicles that are driven on public roads.

The most important factor is that you can drive after ACL surgery when you are confident and feel comfortable.

As mentioned above, you must be able to break hard and stop quickly in case a 3 year old runs across the road in front of you!

Other indicators that your doctor will consider when making an assessment of whether it is safe for you to drive include: 

  • If you had a reconstruction on your right knee, then consider allowing a period of 4 to 6 weeks after surgery before you start driving again
  • You should only drive once you restore control of your quadriceps muscles

Some patients may say that they can use their left foot to brake instead of their right, but evidence suggests that this may cause your reaction times to slow and adversely impact your safety.

It is also important to have your pain and knee swelling under control and to ensure you are comfortable when breaking. You will need a good range of motion to move your leg backwards and forwards.

Driving after ACL surgery on your left knee

If you drive an automatic and it is a left knee procedure, then you can drive after ACL surgery once you feel that your reaction times are back to normal, pain allows, and you are not taking narcotic pain medication.

If you had surgery on your left knee and drive an automatic transmission, then you will be able to drive after ACL surgery within a matter of days. However, it is a good idea to allow for about 1 to 2 weeks to be safe.

You should not drive if you are taking narcotic painkiller medication during the day, as this can impact your reaction times.

Does the car's transmission impact when you can drive after ACL surgery

The type of vehicle is another factor that will impact when you can drive after ACL surgery.

If you drive an automatic transmission, this will mean you can drive a car sooner compared to if you drive a manual vehicle, especially if your left knee was operated on.

If you had a left knee procedure and drive an automatic, you can drive when you feel comfortable.

However, if you drive a manual transmission, then your left leg will need to be functional to operate the clutch.

In other words, you will need to make sure that your left leg can effectively push the clutch in and out.

Summary

You can drive after an ACL reconstruction when you are confident and feel comfortable. This is different for everyone!

Importantly, to drive after ACL surgery, you need to be able to perform an emergency stop and ensure your reaction times are back to normal levels.  

Reaction times can be generally impacted for the first 4 to 6 weeks after an ACL reconstruction.  

Here are 6 key tips to help guide you through driving after ACL surgery:

You can drive when you feel comfortable!

You can drive after ACL surgery when you are confident in doing so. However, use common sense and practise in a vacant car lot to start with.

You "must" be able to brake quickly

It is important to have control and function of your right leg to ensure you can brake quickly in the case of an emergency!

Talk to your doctor or surgeon

Your doctor or surgeon can provide you with general guidance as to a suitable timeframe for you to return to driving after ACL surgery. 

A right knee procedure may require more time!

As you primarily use your right limb to push the pedals, a right knee procedure may require more time before you can drive your car as opposed to a left knee procedure. 

Arrange a lift home after surgery

After surgery, it is best that you arrange a lift home from the hospital with a family member or friend.  

Check your car insurance policy

Finally, check with your car insurer if there are any restrictions before you drive your car after ACL surgery!

Good Luck With Your ACL Surgery recovery!

Click the link below for a copy of our Free ACL Recovery Checklist:

www.ACLinjuryrecovery.com/checklist

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