One of the most common questions that patients have after having an artificial hip or knee replacement is when are they able to return to driving?

Researchers from Germany have been recently looking at this in relation to movements of the knee and how these are involved in driving.[1] They looked at 20 healthy individuals driving a car and identified the range of movement needed. For the knee that is responsible for accelerating or braking, a range of movement of only 40 to 80 degree is needed. For the knee controlling the clutch whilst changing gear, a slightly greater range of movement of 20 to 85 degrees is needed. (0 degrees being when the knee is fully extended in a horizontal position and 90 degrees being when the knee is bent at a right angle).

But what is the current practical and legal advice for patients who have had either a total knee or hip replacement? A good place to start for information is the DVLA. The DVLA state that after surgery drivers do not need to notify the DVLA unless the medical conditions likely to affect safe driving will persist for longer than three months after the date of surgery. They note that it is ultimately the responsibility of the driver to ensure that they are in control of the vehicle at all times and to be able to demonstrate that this is the case if stopped by the police.

The standard time to return to driving is normally at about 6 weeks for a total hip replacement[2]. It can take slightly longer after a total knee replacement with the ‘NHS Choices’ website saying 8 to 12 weeks[3]. The Royal College of Surgeons[4] offers advice to patients about returning to driving after hip replacement (THR) surgery. They suggest avoiding driving for 6 weeks after surgery. At the 6 week point fitness to drive can be assessed by sitting in the driving seat and practicing putting firm pressure on the pedals. If this is painful then you are not ready to drive. When you are able to put enough pressure on the pedals to do an emergency stop then you are ready to return to driving.

Patients should also check with their insurance before returning to driving, as some policies may also state a time limit before returning after surgery.

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[1] Latz D, Schiffner E, Schneppendahl et al ‘Doctor, when can I drive?- Range of motion of the knee while driving a car. Knee 2019; 26: 33-39

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hip-replacement/recovery/

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Knee-replacement/

[4] https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/patient-care/recovering-from-surgery/total-hip-replacement/driving/