WEDNESDAY, Dec. 10, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- You may have the drive to get behind the wheel again after orthopedic surgery or injury, but knowing when it's safe to resume driving isn't as simple as turning the key.
Orthopedic surgeons weigh in on the issue in the December issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.
"Deciding when a patient can return to driving is a difficult decision that may require information that is beyond what is commonly available to the treating physician," Dr. Edward Rodriquez, an orthopedic surgeon and instructor at Harvard University's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said in a news release issued by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. "Driving is a multi-system task, and although we, as orthopedic surgeons, may be able to tell when a limb is strong enough to endure the physical demands of driving, many times there are other concerns that vary from patient to patient."
Universal guidelines don't exist for determining when a patient is road-ready, and only 19 states have testing procedures for patients. Also, only a handful of occupational therapy centers offer return-to-driving programs certified by the American Occupational Therapy Association, Rodriguez said.
Given patients' differing physical conditions and varying types of injuries, he recommended orthopedic surgeons and their patients start the process of determining driving fitness early. They should talk about how the recovery process will affect the patients' ability to drive and what may happen to reach that goal, such as whether recertification is necessary.
"The earlier you ask them, the sooner you can begin to make arrangements for retesting, if that's necessary, and for alternate transportation while you're in the recovery process," Rodriguez advised patients.
In addition to retesting or recertifying, he suggested patients discuss other options to make the return to driving less stressful, such as practicing their driving on less-traveled roads and in large parking lots, and driving only short distances until confidence is regained in his or her endurance and limitations.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about how to prevent orthopedic injuries.