Driving A Stick Shift After a TKR (aka Total Knee Replacement)

Hi everyone! Before I get into sharing the below content, I want to extend my sincerest wishes for an inspiring and happy holiday season. Thank you for your support throughout the years. So…with that done…many of you have asked me about driving a stick shift after a tkr ( aka total knee replacement). I believe it is worthy to share a prior post where I discuss my personal experience about this topic. Enjoy…and stay safe…

Driving a stick is fun, challenging, and keeps a driver in better control of a vehicle when compared to an automatic transmission. However, what is it like to drive a stick shift after a tkr? I had that chance…

First of all, it is important to mention that I learned how to drive on a stick shift. Even though my friend/driving instructor turned into a chain smoker..I enjoyed the challenge and control. It gave me a far greater appreciation for the driving task and the marvels of an automobile. I loved it and still do to this day!

There is far better control of the vehicle in conditions involving inclement weather…like snow, ice, heavy rains, etc. Driving a stick means the driver determines when the car shifts to the next level, not a computer chip or other device that the driver has no control over.

My initial learning experience  was 40+ years ago, though. What would it be like now that I have a tkr on my left leg, the leg used to engage the clutch pedal? Would I be able to drive the vehicle? Would I remember how to coordinate the clutch with the gear shift? It would be interesting.

At first, I was admittedly scared and very curious. I wasn’t sure whether my tkr leg would bend enough to handle the shifting. I envisioned blowing up an engine or gasket at the very least. My confidence was questionable. So…I took the car on a test run around the parking lot. Multiple times to gain confidence, mind you.

I engaged the clutch, put the car into first, put the key into the ignition, turned the ignition key, and slowly started moving. I maneuvered the car out of the parking space, made right and left hand turns, came to stop signs, applied the brakes, started moving, and made it back home.

I even utilized reverse without hitting anything. I pulled into parking spaces without crashing into anything. IT WAS A BLAST!! Whew! I did this for two days before venturing out into the “real” world.

I was amazed about how the entire process of driving a stick after a tkr was similar to riding a bike. No one had to tell me anything, it just came back to me. How nice…:)

As I started driving in traffic, I noticed that utilizing the clutch one stop light after another was becoming tiring. I never realized how much the leg is exercising while performing this maneuver.

The process seemed to trigger the neuropathy left from my removed bone spurs. (I have written about the neuropathy in other posts…) In hindsight, that is probably one reason I was so tired the remaining day and night.

Still…I would do it again in a heart beat. I love the sound of gears shifting, motors revving up, and knowing I have that control. Long live manual transmissions…aka stick shifts!

Does anyone else have stories to share about driving a stick (manual transmission) after a tkr? We want to hear them!

Hope this tkr blog post helps others going through the same thing.

Find my tkr blog post about driving a stick shift after a tkr (aka total knee replacement) interesting? Kindly share…Thanks!

AUTHOR NOTE: Booktoots’ Healing helps total knee replacement patients find support throughout recuperation and beyond. Its mission is for patients to understand they are not alone in their ordeal with either a tkr or variety of other health concerns.

This multiple award-winning tkr blogging site is owned and operated by Marie Buckner, a published author, tkr blogger, and tkr patient who has been living with various health conditions for over 40+ years. She enjoys sharing her experiences to help others going through the same thing.

Marie is also a proud WEGO Health Patient Leader. https://www.wegohealth.com. NOTE: This url will be changing effective January 1, 2022.

4 thoughts on “Driving A Stick Shift After a TKR (aka Total Knee Replacement)”

  1. I’ll let you know how the stick shift goes once spring gets here! I had both knees replaced about a month ago, was released to drive last week, but have not done it yet. My other half has a Subaru — automatic tranny — but my “baby” is a 1990 Toyota pick up with a manual transmission. I have had “Artie” for years, he’s rather beat up now, but is my farm truck and since I we have the all-wheel drive rig, I don’t run him in the winter so any time we are out, I have guys wanting to buy him off me. NOT happening, though! I don’t do a lot of town driving with him — like I said, he’s a farm truck so it mostly to the feed store, hauling manure, etc. but I will take to heart your observation regarding extra exercise of the left leg and related fatigue! Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Hi JJ,
    Thanks for visiting my site and leaving your tkr comment. It is the most entertaining one I have received. 🙂 I love your story about “Artie”. Good luck with the upcoming spring drives. Keep in touch and good luck!

  3. Christopher Hansen

    I drove my stick shift pickup truck at 10 weeks post-op. What seemed like a fun trip to the mall about an hours drive, and mostly highway miles, turned into a nightmare physical reaction and a trip to the ER.

    A stick shift requires using extensive leg pressure to continually utilize the clutch. You wouldn’t believe how much physical exercise this requires unless you actually paid attention .

    The IT band is a ligament that is a key part of your quadriceps (upper leg) muscle. It runs from your hip al the way down your leg below your knee. It’s essentially what keeps you two leg pieces together.

    One thing people are misinformed about is the amount of upper-leg trauma that occurs with TKR. The most common procedure places a tourniquet on your upper leg to completely stop the flow of blood. This creates a cleaner and less complicated work environment for your surgeon to operate. It also completely obliterates your upper leg muscles, and the IT band itself is repositioned and manipulated to make room for the TKR prosthetic. In short, the surgery dramatically weakens those muscles and connective ligaments. Wiped out would be a more accurate description.

    Those same muscles are what gets exercised the most during stick shift driving. You wouldn’t believe how many reps you do just to make a simple cross town drive. I drove two hours straight. That night, I was subjected to agonizing pain along the entire IT band, including my quads and all around my knee joint.

    I’m a healthy 52 year old male, incredibly active in sports and other activities and considered my leg strength and endurance to be ‘above average’ from playing / walking 70-100 rounds of golf every season. I ski in the winter.

    Driving a stick shift for two hours straight was the equivalent of any PT session you ever did times 50. No joke. The pain I experienced was 9/10, and absolutely floored me. Within 24 hours I lost upwards of 70% of my mobility. It was as if I had gone back in time to week 4 post-op. It took a week of minimal activity and bed rest to recover, and 2-3 weeks until I felt like I had fully recovered.

    To make matters worse, my pain management situation regressed and this has been a problem with my orthopedic surgeon who is ultra conservative about prescription pain meds. Because my situation involved an ER visit to get the proper pain management, I was immediately labeled as a drug seeking patient and put on further restrictions regarding pain management. It has been an ongoing struggle to receive proper care in this area ever since.

    Weeks later I took another drive in the truck because I had to. My daily driver car was being repaired and I had chores to do after a 3 day road trip to see my daughter at Christmas.

    I counted over 65 clutch reps to travel less than 10 miles round trip. Total drive time was about :15 in each direction. Put this into perspective. Did you EVER do 65 reps at PT? Never – you would be jelly and crying. Now imagine how many reps are involved in driving for two hours straight as I did unknowingly that one time? Hundreds of reps would be my guess.

    TKR patients need to understand what’s involved in manual stick shift driving. It’s not enough to feel decent doing basic walking. This is a whole different category of exercise and use. The muscles that you are using have been severely traumatized. The damage done to my quads, ligaments and tendons is equal to the damage of having the ends of my leg bones sawed off and capped, and having my knee cap modified.

    In general, it’s been my overriding experience that my Orthopaedic surgeon has done a terrible job of informing me about the post operative complications from this surgery that go beyond range of motion and general mobility objectives. The need for extended pain management, my inability to get any kind of quality sleep for months has been a major problem. Issues like IT band deficiencies and muscle trauma complicate my recovery immeasurably. Surely I’m not the first person to ever experience this? So why is it that I feel like I’m a Beta tester foraging new paths into uncharted territory? This is an area where medical practitioners need to spend more time communicating with patients. The surgery is the easy part, but their roles are to help inform us about the typical complications during recovery. I would have much rather heard ‘no stick shift driving’ or at least a cautionary warning. To be finding these things out as a matter of trial and error is unacceptable. There are 10’s of thousands of TKR surgeries done each year. Surely enough evidence is available to the medical practice community to help patients avoid these types of setbacks.

    Anyhow, my advice is don’t drive a stick shift prior to 13 weeks, and if you do, expect consequences. You need to rehab those muscle groups extensively in order to drive stick properly, and the rehab that most patients are getting isn’t designed for this kind of use. If you must drive stick, you’ll need to take special care to build up repetition slowly. I would highly recommend that you count the number of times that you are depressing and using that clutch. You will be very surprised how even a trip to the grocery store can easily be 30-40 reps total (or more).

    To all the surgeons out there: your patient’s total recovery requires a lot more attention than what’s being provided or prescribed. Information is key, as is setting realistic expectations. There’s also no reason to force people to recover in pain and continual sleepless nights over weeks and months in today’s day and age. Less meat factory, more attention throughout the full lifecycle of recovery.

    Hope this info helps others avoid a potentially painful experience.


  4. Hello Christopher,
    With all due respect to my other readers and responders, this is by far the best comment I have received.
    Thanks for taking the time to visit my site and sharing your very informative insight. I also responded to your private email. I am certain others will appreciate – and follow- your insight, as well.
    Good luck and keep in touch!

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