When can I return to work after surgery is a common and appropriate question heard by Orthopedic Surgeons. The answer to this question is not always straightforward.  This is a tricky area where patients and surgeons need to align their goals and expectations carefully.

Many Factors Affect Your Return To Work After Surgery

Your recovery will be unique to you. Your occupation will have a very significant impact on your return to work day.  Your recovery will depend on factors that relate to the type of surgery you had.  There will be physical as well as emotional or psychological factors that will affect your recovery.  Repairs or reconstructions will take much longer to recover from than a surgery where something is cleaned up or removed.  Repairs or reconstruction of the shoulder may take much longer to recover from than a repair of the elbow or knee.    More than 10% of you will develop very significant stiffness after shoulder surgery. Ultimately you might do fine, but that 6-week recovery your surgeon told you about just became 6-12 months.  Upwards of 10-20% of knee replacements might develop significant stiffness.  Upwards of 10% will have significant residual pain following a knee replacement.  That might take more than a year to improve.  Will your job wait that long?

Are you having surgery on your right knee?  Do you have to drive to work?  You’re not allowed to drive for at least 6 weeks after many knee surgeries.

Did your doctor tell you that you will need crutches for 6 weeks?  Do not expect to be able to walk normally at 6 weeks + 1 day.

Do you have to lift at work?  Rotator cuff repairs might re-tear if they are subject to too much activity within the first 6 months after surgery.

I have seen many patients who are concerned that their recovery is taking an abnormally long time.  They’re nervous, they’re angry, or they’re scared.  If there’s anything I’ve learned after doing this for more than 2o years is that trying to predict the unpredictable is a complicated process.  We have average return to work timeframes in mind.  But these are averages.  This is not an exact science.  You have to take that into consideration when you are determining whether or not you can or should have surgery.

When you are considering surgery, you should have a firm understanding of your treatment options, the reasonably foreseeable risks, and a clear understanding of the potential recovery timeframes.  You should anticipate that everything will go without a hitch… but you should have a clear plan in place if your recovery from surgery stretches longer than expected.

Disclaimer:  this information is for your education and should not be considered medical advice regarding diagnosis or treatment recommendations. Some links on this page may be affiliate links. Read the full disclaimer.

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About the author:

Howard J. Luks, MD

Howard J. Luks, MD

A Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon in Hawthorne, NY. Dr. Howard Luks specializes in the treatment of the shoulder, knee, elbow, and ankle. He has a very "social" patient centric approach and believes that the more you understand about your issue, the more informed your decisions will be. Ultimately your treatments and his recommendations will be based on proper communications, proper understanding, and shared decision-making principles – all geared to improve your quality of life.