Common Post-Operative Questions

When Can you Drive After Surgery?

You should not drive on the day of your outpatient surgical procedure. Most hospitals will require that a family member or friend is present at discharge to drive you home. Studies have shown that a person usually has some form of motor deficit following general anaesthesia for 24 hours following a procedure; driving should therefore not be undertaken until at least this time. Furthermore, some strong pain relieving medications (e.g. opiods/narcotics) can remain in the body for extended time periods and most people should not return to driving until at least 24 hours after this pain relieving medication has stopped.  

Most patients do not drive until after their first post-operative visit (10-14 days after surgery), although some patients (eg. simple knee arthroscopy) may return to driving before this point. When considering a return to driving, it is important to consider the following points:

  • Coordination and reflexes may be slightly impaired for several weeks after surgery.
  • You must recover adequate muscle control for braking and accelerating before you try to drive.

Listed below are typical times after surgery when patients resume driving. Please note that this is a rough guide only, as each patient is different.

  • Simple knee arthroscopy - 1 week
  • ACL reconstruction - 4-6 weeks (less for left leg and automatic car)
  • Shoulder labral repair - 6-7 weeks
  • Rotator cuff repair - 6-7 weeks
  • Hip arthroscopy - 2-3 weeks (less for left leg and automatic car)
  • Periacetabular osteotomy - 8-12 weeks

Casts and Braces
Any injury or surgery that requires a brace or cast that interferes with the use of the hand or right foot will significantly impair the ability to drive safely. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the USA advises that the use of the left foot and leg to use the accelerator and braking pedals is not a safe alternative for drivers that are unable to use their right leg due to casting; drivers with a right leg cast should avoid driving until after the removal of the cast and until the mobility of the joint is adequate for safe driving.

When Can you Fly or travel long distances?

Flying or traveling long distances after surgery does increase your risk of venous thromboembolism or deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in your legs or lungs), otherwise known as DVT. The risk of this is even higher in certain people, and with certain medications like the oral contraceptive pill. Domestic flights within New Zealand are considered relatively low risk for DVT, as the flights are relatively short. International flights, or long distances traveling by car, are higher risk for DVT due to the longer travel duration. Please click here for more information about DVT.

The following are generally accepted recommendations that you can use to lower your risk of DVT when traveling:

  • Regularly drink non-alcoholic fluids
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks (eg. tea and coffee)
  • Do not smoke
  • On your plane: 
    • Stand up at least every hour, walk if possible, and stretch your arms and legs
    • While in your seat, move your ankles up and down fifteen times every hour
    • Avoid sitting with your legs crossed
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes
  • Consider wearing specially-designed DVT compression stockings
  • Seek medical advice before travelling if you have previously had a DVT (blood clots in your legs or lungs), have a family history of DVT, or you think you might be at risk

When Can you return to work?

The decision to return to work is multifactorial, and depends much more on the patient than the doctor. Specifically, the time to return to work depends on the type of surgery you had and the nature of your work. For example, simple knee surgery may result in 1-2 weeks away from work if you work in an office with little walking demands, or 8-12 weeks away from work if you have a heavy manual job that involves a great deal of walking, lifting and climbing.

Dr. Boyle will provide you with recommendations regarding specific work restrictions, according to your surgery and the likely impairments that you will experience post-operatively. We will provide you with an ACC work certificate, work cover insurance certificate, or generic work certificate, outlining these recommendations. Sometimes, ACC or your health insurer will assign special rehabilitation and workplace assessors to help with your transition back to work. Please keep your employer regularly informed regarding your recovery, and work with them to assess when you can return to work under Dr. Boyle's recommended restrictions.