Driving After Surgery On Anesthetia: When Is It Safe?

This blog was originally published on verywell.com

When you can drive after your surgery depends on a variety of factors and is different for every surgery patient. These factors include the type of surgery performed, the type of anesthesia used, your general health, age, and many other considerations that vary between different surgeries surgeries and individual patients.
The length of time varies widely because the individuals and their needs are so different.

The person who breaks their right leg and has a cast placed for six weeks will be unable to safely drive far longer than the individual who has a colonoscopy and is expected to be back to normal the next day.

Driving Home After Surgery
It is never a good idea to drive yourself home from surgery, as anesthesia can slow reflexes, slow your thought processes, and can even cause amnesia in the hours following surgery. So while you may feel like yourself, your ability to drive and your judgment may be severely hampered. For this reason, most hospitals and surgery centers will not perform a procedure or a same day surgery if a person who will act as a driver is not present.

Prior to your surgery, arrange for transportation home with a friend, family member or using public transportation–if that is considered an acceptable option when you inquire with the hospital–such as a taxi. This includes driving after any dental procedure that involves sedation or anesthesia, minor outpatient procedures such as a colonoscopy, and same day surgery procedures.

Driving Safely After Anesthesia
Refrain from driving for the first 24 to 48 hours after receiving anesthesia. In fact, for the first day you should refrain from many things in addition to driving such as operating machinery, cooking (warming in the microwave is ok), and doing any task that could obviously lead to injury, such as chopping vegetables.

If you receive sedation or pain medication after your surgery, your return to driving will be delayed further. Surgery drugs, including prescription pain relievers, sedatives, muscle relaxants and many other medications, will slow your reflexes and affect your ability to drive safely.

Most medications that can impair driving will have a warning label, so be sure to look at your medications closely. Until you know how the medication will affect you, it is important that you do not operate a vehicle or any other type of equipment that could be harmful, such as a lawn mower.

Reasons You May Not Be Permitted to Drive:

You cannot drive safely due to your medications, including anesthesia or prescription pain medication.

You cannot drive safely due to physical limitations (cast, lack of strength).

You could injure yourself attempting to drive — for example, if you have had an orthopedic surgery, such as a hip replacement.

You might hesitate to react appropriately, such as slamming on the brakes, for fear of pain. This hesitation could lead to a traffic accident.

You are wearing an orthopedic device, such as a cast or a brace, that impairs shifting, braking or steering.

Your ability to grip the steering wheel is impaired, such as after a shoulder surgery or a carpal tunnel procedure.

The surgery typically results in a period of mental impairment, such as brain surgery. Wearing a seatbelt is unsafe and could harm your surgical site, such as after an open heart surgery.

Getting out from behind the steering wheel places stress on the incision or surgery site. Shifting is too stressful for your injury. Your vision has been impaired by surgery. The condition that made surgery necessary may impair your ability to drive.

Any other reason that your doctor believes you may not be able to drive safely.

While driving after surgery has not been well-researched and varies widely based on the procedure, your surgeon will be likely to have a strong opinion about when it is appropriate to return to all of your daily activities.

Only your surgeon can take all aspects of your health, surgery and condition into account regarding your ability to drive.

If you are in doubt of your ability to drive, or if you are concerned about a loved one’s ability to drive after their surgery, always err on the side of caution. You can always schedule a driving test like one would take prior to getting their first driver’s license so that an independent person can evaluate whether driving can be done safely.