Driving after hip replacement surgery is something we all look forward to. Finally, you're mobile and independent and able to get out and about when you want. Isn't it great not to be dependent on others?
But it's not quite so simple.
After all you are recovering from a major surgical operation and there are a few, but very important considerations, that may well affect your ability to drive, your insurance and your legal status.
So having got all the warnings out of the way let's review the factors that will affect your reaction time and driving skills as well as those that put you at risk of dislocating your hip.
You should not drive after hip replacement surgery if you are taking narcotic (opiate based) medication. In most countries it is illegal. If you are on any other medication then your surgeon will advise you when it is safe for you to drive. As people react differently to hip pain relief medication you must tell your doctor about any side affects you experience. He can then factor this in when giving you advice.
Medication is one factor that will affect your reaction time once you start driving after hip replacement surgery. It can dramatically slow down the time it takes you to process information or make it hard for you to concentrate on driving. However even if your brain is working fine your leg may not be able to react quickly. It is always a good idea to "practice" driving after a hip replacement before actually putting the key in the ignition. Sit in the car and pretend to drive (okay I know it sounds daft - but better daft than sorry). Can your leg switch quickly between accelerator (gas) and brake? Do you feel confident co-ordinating the clutch with the accelerator? If not, be patient, and wait a bit longer before setting off.
The majority of hip replacements are carried out using a modified anterolateral approach which means the surgeon makes the first incision from the side of your hip. The next most common is the posterior approach (from the back). Although there are many advantages to these approaches they both increase the likelihood of dislocation during the first few weeks post-op. The anterior approach (from the front) especially when combined with the minimally invasive technique has a lower risk of dislocation and may allow you to start driving after a hip replacement much sooner. What does this mean to you? Well once you start driving after hip replacement surgery you're going to need to get in and out of your car and depending on the surgical approach used this can increase your risk of dislocating your hip substantially
(I've tried to write this so that it is clear whether you drive on the left or the right!)
Driving a manual car (stick shift) involves using both legs. Therefore it really doesn't matter which leg was operated on. You can't drive until the leg can do its job properly.
Driving an automatic only involves one leg so if your operated leg is the one you use for the pedals you will have to wait longer to drive than if it was your other leg that was operated on.
Driving after hip replacement surgery is going to be more tiring than you expect. Do you have the stamina to drive a long distance? Have you got the attention span? Can you keep your leg in the right position for sufficient time? If you've hesitated in answering any of these then don't drive.
Check your insurance policy for any conditions relating to driving after hip replacement surgery. It will probably be invalid if you haven't got positive clearance from your surgeon before you drive. by "positive clearance" I mean that your surgeon has actually told you that you are fit to drive. Don't think just becuase he hasn't said anything that you can. If in doubt ask him.
Take a momen to think about the consequences of that. If you get stopped you'll be fined or taken to court with the possiblity of a criminal record for the rest of your life. Worse still if you cause an accident how will you pay?
Driving after a hip replacement means that you are independent again. It's great but be patient - a few days or weeks without the use of a car is better than an accident.
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