Riding in a car after knee replacement surgery - driving

Riding (and Driving) In A Car After Knee Replacement Surgery (7 Tips)

Riding and driving isn’t an easy task after surgery. If you are having total knee replacement you may be thinking about riding in a car and driving a car post-surgery.

Know this: You will definitely need somebody to drive you home from the hospital.

Your first two weeks of physical therapy will probably be at home so unless there are complications, you won’t need to get back in a car until you begin offsite therapy or for your first doctor’s visit.  Plan on getting a little stir crazy.

In this article, I’ll share my experience of riding in a car and then finally driving the car myself. I was fortunate to have family and friends who were willing to drive when I needed a ride. If you have surgery on your right knee you can expect that it will take you longer to get back behind the wheel.

I’ll also share 7 tips to make your ride, and drive, a more comfortable experience.  Let’s get started.

When Can You Expect To Ride And Drive After Knee Replacement

You will be able to ride in a car, as a passenger, immediately after surgery (to get home). This won’t be comfortable since you’ve just had surgery so it’s wise to minimize rides the first few weeks.

Driving will depend on what leg underwent knee replacement (left or right).  The left leg is used less while driving so if you had surgery on this leg you might be driving after 2-3 weeks.  I had surgery on my right knee and I believe 5 weeks is a more realistic time frame.

Ultimately, your clearance to drive will be up to you and your doctor.  I recommend that you practice driving in your neighborhood before taking long drives.

Riding In A Car Home From The Hospital

One of my first big challenges after TKR was getting into a car for the ride home from the hospital. I was wheeled out of the hospital in a wheelchair.

My son was waiting with his compact car (big mistake). A larger car like our SUV would have made things much easier.

Our first idea was for to me to sit in the back with my leg outstretched on the seat. Getting from the wheelchair, standing up and then getting in the car was harder than I had thought.

>> Things You Need After Knee Replacement

I tried several times to get in the back seat from both doors but I could not get in easily because I could not bend my knee. After several attempts, I gave up.

I was able to get in the front seat passenger seat without much trouble but I was afraid that it would be painful because I could not elevate the knee. The twenty-minute ride home was actually pretty comfortable probably due to the pain medication I had recently taken.

Once I arrived home it took a few minutes to get out of the car and up with my walker. My son parked in the garage so that I had a short walk into the house with no stairs (read my article on walking 2 weeks after knee replacement).

Riding In A Car To and From The Therapist

The next time that I got in a car was for my first visit with the offsite physical therapist at the beginning of the third-week post surgery. From this point on I rode in the larger SUV, which made it easier to get in and out of the front seat.

In the beginning, I always had to use my arms to support my leg while I bent it to get in and out of the car. I was able to straighten my leg out once I got in the car and I often did ankle pumps and some flexion on the ten-minute ride to the therapist.

I did not have my first follow up doctor’s visit until one month after the surgery so my trips in the car were limited to going to and from the physical therapist 3 times a week.

Getting Cleared To Drive After TKR Surgery

Before driving you’ll want to consult with your doctor. My doctor did not give me a timeline on when I could drive. He told me that when I felt like I was ready that I should take short drives around the neighborhood (interesting study about brake response times after knee surgery). I had surgery on my right knee, which of course is the leg you use most to accelerate and break with.

If I had a front bench seat I think I would have been able to drive earlier using my left leg while propping my right leg up on the seat. Years ago when I broke my right leg I drove left-footed with my right leg on the bench seat for several months using a car with an automatic transmission.

After taking a short drive in the neighborhood, I began driving myself to physical therapy appointments on week five post-surgery. I also drove on short errands. It was nice to be self-sufficient again, but for any driving over 20 minutes it was nice to let someone else take the wheel.

Taking A Road Trip In A Car After Knee Replacement

My first big trip (280 miles) took place 9 weeks after TKR. Every 45 minutes or so I would stop and get out of the car to walk.

I shared driving with my wife and let her drive the portion of the trip that took us through Los Angeles. We always try and drive through Los Angeles on Sunday morning but the traffic in LA can be bad at any time due to an accident and I did not want to be driving in stop and go traffic braking constantly with my right leg.

7 Tips To Stay Comfortable While Driving (Getting In And Out Of A Car)

As I mentioned in this article my surgery was on my right knee.

  1. For me, it was easier to get in and out of the car on the right side passenger seat or the right side back seat.
  2. Avoid low-profile cars like sportscars as these vehicles will be tough to get in and out of.
  3. Put your weight on your hands/arms when getting in and out of the car.
  4. Initially, my walker or a walking stick was helpful, especially when getting out of the car (should you use a walker, cane or walking poles after TKR).
  5. Push the seat back as far as it goes to make yourself comfortable and to allow you to straighten and flex your knee.
  6. On longer trips, recline your seat to stretch out even further.
  7. Take frequent stops to relax and stretch out

Conclusion

Prepare for the trip home from the hospital. Use the biggest car possible even if you have to ask a relative or friend to pick you up with their car.

The bigger the car, the easier it will be for you to get in and out and to sit comfortably. Arrange for a relative or caregiver to give you rides to and from the physical therapist until you feel comfortable driving yourself.

Don’t be in too big of a hurry to drive yourself if you have a person that can drive for you. Depending on which leg you have TKR on can make a difference on how soon you can get back behind the wheel. Practice short drives in areas with little or no traffic.

As you gain confidence behind the wheel start running errands that take you on longer trips with some traffic. Prepare for your first long trip so that you can make frequent stops to exercise and rest.

I felt comfortable driving at six weeks post surgery. I hope you will exercise good judgment before you get behind the wheel.

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