When Can I drive Again After Foot and Ankle Surgery or Injury?
Considering when you can return to normal activities after foot and ankle surgery is very important in the decision-making process. Driving is a very important aspect of everyday life and work for many people.
Most of the decision making is common sense, and relies on you, the patient, ensuring that you are safe before getting back behind the wheel. There is, however, some science that can help us with average time periods.
The general rule is that you need to be in full control of your vehicle. Don’t forget that it is not just the surgery that can impair you, but also, any medication you may be taking. Morphine based drugs, often prescribed for pain in the first few post-operative days, are a good example of medication that can make you drowsy and unsafe behind the wheel. Always clarify with your surgical team which drugs may make you drowsy, and how long you may need them.
If you drive an automatic car and are having surgery on your left side you are in luck. You can start driving when the operated leg is comfortable enough for the usual knock about of day-to-day activities, as this leg is redundant in an automatic. It is always wise to practice in a safe environment such as a private road, before driving properly. Practicing an emergency stop is essential, in my opinion, as it is quite shocking how much you are thrown about if you have not had to do one for a while.
I have had several patients over the years who have swapped cars, with friends or partners who have automatics, so that they can get back to driving as quickly as possible.
Most of my patients manage to start driving automatic vehicles 3-4 weeks after surgery on the left foot.
The right foot and ankle are of course a different matter. The limb needs to be healed enough for comfortable walking in normal footwear. I always insist on the patient doing the emergency stop test in a private area before driving on public roads.
Bunion surgery is a good example of the average foot operation. A study recently published in the Bone and Joint Journal suggests that most patients take 8.6 weeks to get back on the road.
Ankle surgery is often more significant than foot surgery and can take longer to recover from. The situation is very variable, and you should seek advice from the surgeon as to when you will be able to walk comfortably. This can be as little as 3-4 weeks after ankle arthroscopy (minimally invasive surgery), and as much as 3 months after an ankle fusion for arthritis. Common procedures such operations for ankle fractures, or total ankle replacement, are usually somewhere in between. My last few patients started driving after 8-9 weeks of surgery.
The government provides useful general guidance on fitness to drive in the highway code.
When you are satisfied that you are safe to drive, you must inform your car insurance company. They need to know that you have had a procedure, have considered your fitness to drive, and are about to start driving again. If you don’t, your insurance may be invalid.
There are always exceptions to the general rules and so think carefully before driving and ask the surgical team for their advice.
If you drive a heavy goods or public service vehicle, more strict rules may apply. Always discuss this with your employer, insurance company and/or the DVLA before proceeding.