Many people wonder how long it will take before one can drive after knee replacement. If your knee is severely damaged by arthritis or injury, it may be hard for you to perform simple activities, such as walking driving or climbing stairs. You may even begin to feel pain while you are sitting or lying down. The question of how long after knee replacement can you drive is always asked by patients. In this article, everything about knee replacement will be explored as well as how long after knee replacement can you drive.
What is a knee replacement surgery?
Knee replacement, also called knee arthroplasty or total knee replacement, is a surgical procedure to resurface a knee damaged by arthritis. Metal and plastic parts are used to cap the ends of the bones that form the knee joint, along with the kneecap. This surgery may be considered for someone who has severe arthritis or a severe knee injury.
Various types of arthritis may affect the knee joint. Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that affects mostly middle-aged and older adults, may cause the breakdown of joint cartilage and adjacent bone in the knees. Rheumatoid arthritis, which causes inflammation of the synovial membrane and results in excessive synovial fluid, can lead to pain and stiffness. Traumatic arthritis, arthritis due to injury, may cause damage to the cartilage of the knee.
The goal of knee replacement surgery is to resurface the parts of the knee joint that have been damaged and to relieve knee pain that cannot be controlled by other treatments.
Reasons for the procedure
Knee replacement surgery is a treatment for pain and disability in the knee. The most common condition that results in the need for knee replacement surgery is osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage. Damage to the cartilage and bones limits movement and may cause pain. People with severe degenerative joint disease may be unable to do normal activities that involve bending at the knee, such as walking or climbing stairs, because they are painful. The knee may swell or “give-way” because the joint is not stable.
Other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and arthritis that results from a knee injury, may also lead to degeneration of the knee joint. In addition, fractures, torn cartilage, and/or torn ligaments may lead to irreversible damage to the knee joint.
If medical treatments are not satisfactory, knee replacement surgery may be an effective treatment. Some medical treatments for degenerative joint disease may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
- Pain medications
- Limiting painful activities
- Assistive devices for walking (such as a cane)
- Physical therapy
- Cortisone injections into the knee joint
- Viscosupplementation injections (to add lubrication into the joint to make joint movement less painful)
- Weight loss (for obese persons)
There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend a knee replacement surgery.
How long after knee replacement can you drive
How long after knee replacement can you drive again? This is a common question for anyone considering knee replacement.
Generally, most patients may be able to get back to driving between 2–6 weeks after surgery, and your surgeon would be in the best position to give you a more specific time based on an assessment of how well you are recovering.
Regaining the ability to drive is an important step to resuming your normal life, getting out of the house, and making future appointments for your knee. Most people can return to driving a car by 4 weeks following knee replacement, and scientific studies looking at reflexes and response times have confirmed this. It really comes down to reacting safely to a situation on the road; braking or accelerating.
But, the exact time is individualized and depends on which knee was replaced, medications being taken, and other mobility factors.
Things to consider:
- DO NOT drive when taking strong pain medication.
- Make sure you feel safe getting in and out of your car. You need good knee motion to get in and out of the car.
- If your left knee was replaced AND you are driving an automatic, you can probably drive by 2 weeks.
Focus hard on your postoperative exercises so that you are ready to get behind the wheel when the time comes.
Risks of knee replacement
As with any surgical procedure, complications can occur. Some possible complications may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Blood clots in the legs or lungs
- Loosening or wearing out of the prosthesis
- Continued pain or stiffness
- The replacement knee joint may become loose, be dislodged, or may not work the way it was intended. The joint may have to be replaced again in the future.
- Nerves or blood vessels in the area of surgery may be injured, resulting in weakness or numbness. The joint pain may not be relieved by surgery.
- There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.
Signs of infection
Notify your doctor immediately if you notice:
- Fever greater than 100 F (37.8 C)
- Shaking chills
- Drainage from the surgical site
- Increasing redness, tenderness, swelling and pain in the knee
An infected knee replacement usually requires surgery to remove the artificial parts and antibiotics to kill the bacteria. After the infection is cleared, another surgery is performed to install a new knee.
Before the procedure
- Your doctor will explain the procedure to you and offer you the opportunity to ask any questions that you might have about the procedure.
- You will be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if something is not clear.
- In addition to a complete medical history, your doctor may perform a complete physical examination to ensure you are in good health before undergoing the procedure. You may undergo blood tests or other diagnostic tests.
- Notify your doctor if you are sensitive to or are allergic to any medications, latex, tape, and anesthetic agents (local and general).
- Notify your doctor of all medications (prescribed and over-the-counter) and herbal supplements that you are taking.
- Notify your doctor if you have a history of bleeding disorders or if you are taking any anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medications, aspirin, or other medications that affect blood clotting. It may be necessary for you to stop these medications prior to the procedure.
- If you are pregnant or suspect that you are pregnant, you should notify your doctor.
- You will be asked to fast for eight hours before the procedure, generally after midnight.
- You may receive a sedative prior to the procedure to help you relax.
- You may meet with a physical therapist prior to your surgery to discuss rehabilitation.
- Arrange for someone to help around the house for a week or two after you are discharged from the hospital.
- Based on your medical condition, your doctor may request other specific preparation.
During the procedure
Knee replacement requires a stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your doctor’s practices.
Knee replacement surgery is most often performed while you are asleep under general anesthesia. Your anesthesiologist will discuss this with you in advance.
Generally, knee replacement surgery follows this process:
- You will be asked to remove clothing and will be given a gown to wear.
- An intravenous (IV) line may be started in your arm or hand.
- You will be positioned on the operating table.
- A urinary catheter may be inserted.
- If there is excessive hair at the surgical site, it may be clipped off.
- The anesthesiologist will continuously monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and blood oxygen level during the surgery.
- The skin over the surgical site will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution.
- The doctor will make an incision in the knee area.
- The doctor will remove the damaged surfaces of the knee joint and resurface the knee joint with the prosthesis. The knee prosthesis is made up of metal and plastic. The most common type of artificial knee prosthesis is a cemented prosthesis. Uncemented prostheses are not commonly used anymore. A cemented prosthesis attaches to the bone with surgical cement. An uncemented prosthesis attaches to the bone with a porous surface onto which the bone grows to attach to the prosthesis. Sometimes, a combination of the 2 types is used to replace a knee. The prosthesis is generally comprised of 3 components: the tibial component (to resurface the top of the tibia, or shin bone); the femoral [thigh bone] component (to resurface the end of the thighbone; and the patellar component (to resurface the bottom of the kneecap that rubs against the thighbone).
- The incision will be closed with stitches or surgical staples.
- A drain may be placed in the incision site to remove fluid.
- A sterile bandage or dressing will be applied.
In the hospital after the procedure
After the surgery you will be taken to the recovery room for observation. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are stable and you are alert, you will be taken to your hospital room. Knee replacement surgery usually requires an in-hospital stay of several days.
It is important to begin moving the new joint after surgery. A physical therapist will meet with you soon after your surgery and plan an exercise program for you. A continuous passive motion (CPM) machine may be used to begin the physical therapy. This machine moves your new knee joint through its range of motion while you are resting in bed. Your pain will be controlled with medication so that you can participate in the exercise. You will be given an exercise plan to follow both in the hospital and after discharge.
You will be discharged home or to a rehabilitation center. In either case, your doctor will arrange for continuation of physical therapy until you regain muscle strength and good range of motion.