10:01 AM

When is it safe to drive after a rotator cuff surgery?

When is it safe to drive after a rotator cuff surgery?

A collaboration between Carilion Clinic, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine sought to answer this question. The research, which was supported in part by integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia  (iTHRIV) grant funding, monitored a patient’s driving ability at two-, four-, six- and twelve-week intervals following surgery.

“Driving is a big deal for patients in Southwest Virginia due to the limitations of access to public transportation throughout the area,” said Miguel Perez, PhD Perez, a research scientist for Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. As the data engineering director for VTTI, Perez specializes in the collection and analysis of driving safety data.

“The previous driving restriction guidelines were outdated and didn’t consider newer, less invasive surgical procedures now available,” said Linsen Samuel, M.D, Clinical Research Coordinator for Carilion. Historically, patients are restricted from driving for six weeks following a rotator cuff repair surgery.

“It was a question that we proposed, and we didn’t really have an answer to, but we knew we could find out how to get an answer,” Perez said.

To answer the question, the research team designed a car customized with cameras and computers to record and review the patient’s driving abilities. The vehicle was also modified with a secondary control system, allowing the scientists monitoring the participants to take over driving from the backseat if needed.

“It’s really decked out with all the bells and whistles,” said Reid McClure, one of dozens of patients who participated in the unique driving research. “I hope it accomplished its objectives of reducing restricted driving time.”

The study showed that while patients are experiencing impairments following rotator cuff surgeries, they can compensate for this to a point of no noticeable differences in their driving. It proved that patients can return to driving a lot faster than was previously thought.

“Patients are smart, they are adaptive, and they make modifications to their techniques that make them safe,” Peter Apel, M.D., Orthopaedic Surgeon with Carilion.

Ultimately, these findings will help to inform future research with the goal of developing customizable post-op guidance for patients, establishing individualized care and best practices that can be modeled nationwide.