How soon can I drive after surgery?

driving after surgery

This is the number one question women ask me about their plastic surgery recovery. Far from being authoritarian nonsense (reminiscent of the lockdown curfew), the post-surgery recommendation to delay getting behind the wheel has merit. I will explain the reasoning.

When we’re motivated by work, caring for children, and other family obligations, being unable to drive for a few weeks can be a real logistical worry for women planning to have surgery. This is a valid concern and one I don’t fault anyone for.

However, back-to-driving time is about two weeks for most breast reduction or augmentation surgeries. It is closer to three weeks after larger surgeries like a tummy tuck or combined surgeries like a mommy makeover. For shorter operations, for example, minor liposuction or blepharoplasty, it is usually closer to one week.

But why, you may ask? Believe me, we don’t make these rules to be a nuisance to anyone. Picture the familiar scenario: A hooting-tooting taxi out of nowhere swerves wildly into your lane. Your arms are stiff after surgery, and your reaction time is sluggish. As your car spins out of control the seat belt strains and pulls on you. And then the airbags inflate, and all combined it’s like a ton of bricks on your still-fresh surgery wounds. Before you know it, your implants have ruptured and you start to bleed. While this may sound sensational, it’s a very real possibility, and even braking too suddenly can put pressure on your still-healing wounds.

Follow the guidelines below to avoid risking such unnecessary danger, pain or discomfort and possible complications.

Recommendations for driving after surgery:

1 Don’t drive immediately after surgery.

Have someone drive you home from the hospital after your procedure. You will feel groggy and possibly a bit unsteady due to the effects of anaesthesia and you will be unable to drive safely. This applies to all surgeries. I suggest having someone stay with you and help out at least for the first day or two after surgery.

2 Don’t drive if you are taking strong pain medication

None of these recommendations are negotiable, but this should be a given. Medications prescribed for pain management after surgery, like opioids and codeine, can make you very sleepy, slow your reaction time, and even impair your coordination or blur your vision. Many carry warnings in the package insert stating: “Do not operate heavy machinery.” I feel that includes cars, motorcycles, and Vespas. Even bicycles.

3 Don’t drive if you can’t make an emergency stop or take evasive action

Recovery can impede your ability to drive. Feeling tenderness or soreness in your wounds can restrict your movements. And when you feel restricted and stiff in your arms, chest, legs, or belly (depending on the kind of surgery), you may be unable to perform evasive action or come to a rapid stop to avoid a crash. Not only that, but stiffness in your neck or shoulders may prevent you from easily turning to check your blind spots when changing lanes which can lead to accidents.

Even a minor vehicle accident after recovery can impede your recovery time or worse, result in complications that need to be addressed. A general rule of thumb is that recovery time is best spent resting and allowing your body to heal, and this applies to all forms of surgery, be it cosmetic or medical.

So before your surgery, make arrangements to accommodate your not being able to drive. Have a friend or loved one run errands for you, or complete your errands and obligations before your surgery and recovery period. Don’t leave your license renewal till you’re a week into recovery and now you have to go to the traffic department before it expires. You wouldn’t cancel your holiday to run errands, and you shouldn’t for your recovery period either.

Just as importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If something comes up, call on someone to help you.

And just remember, “Good things take time.” Recovery takes time, and your recovery is important.