If you are wondering how long after ACL surgery can you drive, you are not alone. Many people want to know the answer to this question so they can plan their recovery accordingly. The good news is that most people are able to start driving again within a few months of surgery.
However, it is important to speak with your doctor before making any decisions about driving.
In this blog post, we will discuss when it is safe to start driving after ACL reconstruction surgery and what you need to do to prepare for your return to the road.
The Knee Joint
The knee joint is one of the most complex joints in the body, and it is important to take good care of it to prevent injury and reduce the risk of damage. The knee joint is made up of three main bones – the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone or main “lower leg bone”), and patella (knee cap).
The knee joint is supported by many muscles and tendons, including the quadriceps muscles which include the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius. These muscles are responsible for extending the knee joint and flexing the hip. They are located on the front of the thigh.
The hamstring muscles also support the knee joint, including the biceps femoris muscle, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus muscle. These muscles are located on the back of the thigh and help with knee flexion or bending the knee.
In addition to these muscles, there are also menisci or c-shaped cartilage pieces that sit between the femur and tibia bones. These menisci help to protect the knee joint by being a shock absorber, preventing friction, and providing stability.
The knee joint also has four main ligaments that help support and stabilize the joint. These ligaments are the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
The ACL specifically helps the knee by preventing anterior translation (forward movement) of the tibia and, as its name suggests, is generally thought of as crucial to daily or athletic movement.
Now that we know more about the knee joint, let’s talk about some of the most common knee injuries.
Common Knee Injuries
Below is a list of some of the most common knee injuries:
– ACL injuries – this injury is the most common in sports and often occurs due to a twisting motion. An ACL tear can be caused by landing awkwardly, pivoting quickly during sports, or colliding with another player.
– Meniscus tear – when the menisci are damaged, it can cause pain, swelling, and difficulty with movement. This is a common injury among athletes who run or jump frequently.
– Fractures – a fracture can occur in any of the bones that make up the knee joint. This is usually caused by an injury or accident such as a car accident, fall from high heights, or sports injuries.
– Knee arthritis – this type of knee injury occurs when cartilage in the knee joint breaks down over time, causing pain and stiffness. Knee arthritis can be caused by wear and tear from repeated stress on the joint or from injuries that lead to joint damage.
If you experience any of these injuries, it is important to seek medical attention right away and consult with your doctor about what treatment options are available.
If you have a torn ACL you will likely need surgery to begin your rehabilitation.
ACL surgery is generally an arthroscopic outpatient surgery, meaning you complete the procedure and return home the same day.
On the day of surgery, your ACL injury is treated by orthopedic surgeons using small incisions in order to minimize any damage to the surrounding tissue and to reduce scarring.
There are several different surgical techniques that can be used to repair an ACL tear, including a hamstring tendon autograft, patellar tendon graft, quadricep tendon graft, or allograft, which uses donor ligaments.
The goal of ACL surgery is to help restore normal knee function by repairing the damaged ligament. Recovery time can vary, but it typically takes 12+ months to fully recover from surgery and return to your normal level of activity with your new ligament.
If you have sustained a meniscus tear, your doctor may recommend knee surgery to repair or remove the damaged tissue. This is usually done in parallel, during arthroscopic surgery, which allows the surgeon to repair or remove the torn tissue without making a large incision.
Recovery time will vary based on how severe the tear is and how much of the meniscus needs to be repaired or removed. Each individual will have slightly different recovery times based on their situation, their body, the severity of their injury, the surgeon’s skill, and the graft type used.
It is safe to note that the first week will likely be the most painful after your nerve block has worn off. Do your best to stay ahead of the pain and follow all of the surgeon’s recommendations to ensure you are on the right path.
Discuss your situation with your primary care provider, surgeon, and other members of your medical team to get a comprehensive view of your medical condition. As you get a better picture of your situation you can begin to plan how your recovery will look.
But how long after ACL surgery can you drive?
How Long After ACL Surgery Can You Drive?
We all live chaotic, busy lives, and planning for a period of time when you cannot just jump behind the wheel of your car is daunting and anxiety-provoking. Many start thinking about this on the first day following their surgical procedure.
Some patients can begin driving as soon as they are off pain medication, but all patients can return to driving about 6–8 weeks after surgery. But how long after ACL surgery you can drive will vary depending on how quickly your body heals, your surgeon’s guidance, and how much support you need as you begin to increase your level of activity.
Your return to behind the wheel of your car depends on a couple of things. First, which leg was operated on? If it was your right leg (right knee), you may have a slightly longer recovery time until getting behind the wheel.
Secondly, it is important to consider the type of car you drive. There is a large difference between what is required of the left and right leg in an automatic car. But if your left leg (left knee) was operated on and you drove a manual car, it would require a much longer hiatus from driving. This is because operating a manual car requires adequate coordination and range of motion of both legs.
Regardless of which leg was operated on it is always mandatory to not drive or operate any heavy machinery while taking pain medication. Narcotic pain medication can heavily impact reaction times due to drowsiness or overall coordination.
Once your doctor gives you the green light, you can begin to ease back into driving by first taking short trips around town and building up your stamina.
Remember, your return to driving after ACL surgery depends on how quickly your body heals, how well you take care of yourself during recovery, what leg was operated on, what type of car you drive, and how dedicated you are to following your doctor’s orders.
If you experience any pain or discomfort when driving, remember to stop immediately, rest, and consult your doctor for further guidance on how to proceed with your recovery. With the right care and support, you should be able to safely return behind the wheel of your car in no time.
Returning to your normal function takes some time, which is certainly a negative that needs to be discussed between your family and your doctor. Other things you may want to discuss are any prevalent risks associated with ACL surgery.
What are the Risks Associated with ACL Surgery?
There are a number of risks associated with ACL surgery, such as postoperative bleeding, infection, nerve injury or numbness in the leg, blood clot, and pain.
You should speak to your doctor about how you can minimize these risks and how you can prepare for your recovery period. This may include things like getting plenty of rest, avoiding certain foods and medications, and following your doctor’s postoperative instructions carefully.
It is also important to be patient and to allow your body time to heal. There are a number of things you can do to optimize your recovery throughout the healing process.
How to Optimize Your Healing Progress Following ACL Surgery
Some of the key things you can do to optimize your healing progress following ACL surgery include:
– Resting and avoiding strenuous activities, which will help minimize pain and promote healing.
– Taking pain medicine or supplements as prescribed by your doctor. This may include things like over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medications, or supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin.
– Incorporating physical therapy into your recovery plan, can help you regain the full range of motion and muscle strength in your knee and surrounding tissues.
Gaining full extension specifically is very important to resume your daily activity of driving. A physical therapist is an expert in your musculoskeletal system and knows how to improve your lower extremity’s function and ensure you get back on the road in no time.
– Maintaining a healthy diet by drinking plenty of water and eating foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals to promote healing. This may include foods like leafy greens, lean protein sources, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
– Elevating and icing your leg regularly, which can help reduce swelling and pain. This can be done by using ice packs on your knee for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
It is a good idea to elevate and ice your leg at the same time, ensuring you are removing as much swelling and discomfort as possible. Do this multiple times a day for the best results.
– Engaging in other healthy lifestyle habits, such as getting enough sleep, practicing stress management techniques like meditation or exercise, and avoiding smoking and alcohol.
By following these steps and working closely with your medical team throughout the recovery process, you can make it out of your immobilizer brace and back into your normal routine in no time!
How Long Will I be in a Brace Following Surgery?
The amount of time you will be required to wear a knee brace following your ACL surgery will vary depending on a number of factors, such as how severe your injury was, the type of surgery performed, your surgeon’s protocol, and how quickly your body heals.
In general, most people will spend about 2 weeks to a month and a half in an immobilizer brace following surgery, which will be gradually decreased in duration as you progress through your recovery.
You’ll be Driving in No Time!
As you begin your recovery from ACL surgery, it is important to take care of yourself and follow your orthopaedic surgeon’s instructions closely.
The most important factor that many people neglect to discuss or address throughout the process is the psychological impact of ACL surgery. It is important to take time for self-care and to focus on your mental health because staying positive can help you stay focused on healing and getting back to doing the things you love.
So if you have recently undergone ACL surgery and are feeling anxious about how long it will be before you are able to drive again, remember to focus on the healing process and how you can best support your body as it recovers. With time, patience, and a positive attitude, you will be back on the road in no time!
About the Author
Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.