Tips on Returning to Work After Surgery

It can be very difficult to know when to return to work after having an orthopaedic procedure performed. When you will be fit to return to work depends upon a number of factors including the type of work you do, the type of surgery you have undergone, your weight-bearing restrictions, the use of a gait aid or crutches, your age, and other medical comorbidities.

Type of surgery

The type of surgery has a distinct bearing on when you will be able to return to work. Even with rapid recovery protocols and minimally invasive techniques, most surgeons would recommend a period off work for any procedure. Having an anaesthetic would generally mean that you are unfit for most jobs for 24 hours, and from there it will depend upon the type of procedure performed. For simple keyhole knee and hip surgery, it may only require a few days, to a week off; however, for more extensive procedures such as hip and knee replacement, you may require 2-6 weeks off work. Some patients are able to return to work quickly after a total hip replacement, depending on the type of work which they perform and their medication use. Many patients are able to get back to desk-based, office duties at 2 weeks from an anterior hip replacement, however, more physical jobs will require at least 6-12 weeks off work. For example, heavy labourers and tradespeople will typically require 4-6 weeks off work. This is also influenced by crutches use, which is typically necessary for 2 weeks after a hip replacement.

Use of medications

Other factors influencing a return to work include the use of medications and analgesia, and how these affect your ability to drive. You should not drive or operate commercial equipment when you are taking opiate analgesia, as this may delay your reflexes and impair your judgement.

Getting to and from work

Another key factor in returning to work is how you will get to and from work, and whether or not you can drive a car or catch public transport. If you have had right-sided lower limb surgery, you need to ensure that your right lower limb is functioning adequately to perform emergency braking, and typically after most right lower limb surgery, the minimum period to avoid driving would be 2 weeks. Similarly, if you require crutches or another gait aid, then catching public transport could be difficult, and this needs to be factored into your return to work program.

Please note that the above information is general in nature, and should be discussed with your surgeon directly.