How soon after foot, toe or ankle surgery can I drive?
Driving is not permitted if you are in a cast or wearing an orthopaedic boot. As an orthopaedic study highlighted “boots are not made for driving”1. The type of surgery will directly affect the return to driving as different operations will require different immobilisation methods and times. Equally important is the operated side and whether you are driving an automatic or a manual car.
For instance, after bunion surgery to the left foot the patient is normally fit to drive an automatic car after 2 weeks from surgery; surgery to the right foot or a manual car would generally require 6-8 weeks instead for the same operation.
In the end it comes down to safety on the road. One should only go back to driving when it is safe to do so, which in short occurs when the driver is able to perform an emergency stop. One way of assessing you are capable of this is with the car turned off, and try to stomp the foot down on the brakes. If this can be done firmly and pain free, then it is considered that one is fit to drive safely. A study2 investigated this change in time needed to perform an emergency stop following different types of lower limb surgery and concluded that braking function returns to normal at:
- 4 weeks after knee arthroscopy
- 9 weeks after surgical fixation of an ankle fracture
Also bear in mind that some pain medication used after surgery can affect your reaction time and ability to drive.
Going back to driving too soon will potentially delay and impair the healing process, but more importantly it may put yourself or others on the road at risk.
The DVLA has issued a guidance3 on assessing fitness to driving after medical conditions and surgery. If recovery time is likely to persist for 3 months or longer, drivers need to notify the DVLA of surgical recovery, but it is not required if it is less than 3 months. Furthermore, drivers must ensure they remain covered by insurance to drive after surgery.
Ultimately it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that they are in control of the vehicle under any circumstances and when to resume driving following surgery. Always ask your surgeon to help you in every particular case to establish the right time to do so.
1. Symes MJ, Escudero M, Abdulla I, Veljkovic A, Paquette S, Younger AS. Boots are not made for driving: a cautionary case report about the dangers of driving in a CAM walker boot and literature review. Foot Ankle Spec. August 6, 2018.
2. Marecek GS, Schafer MF. Driving after orthopaedic surgery. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2013;21(11):696-706.