Helpful Tips for Travelling After Hip or Knee Surgery
Hip and knee replacements empower thousands of patients each year to resume active lifestyles. While UNOVA Hip and Knee patients, on average, go home after surgery in less than 90 minutes and start resuming pre-surgery activity within weeks, not everyone is the same. Each patient’s recovery is different, and some may return to daily activities, sporting activities and travel sooner than others. This varies based on the patient and the procedure. Travel can take a toll on anyone, so patients in the post-surgical recovery phase need to be especially careful.
Risks of Traveling After Hip or Knee Replacement
In general, patients should wait six weeks to travel. Six weeks after surgery is considered the immediate postoperative period and is the optimal time for complications, if any should arise. The main risks of traveling–whether by plane, train, or automobile–are associated with prolonged sitting, dehydration, and blood clots. When you are inactive or seated for extended periods of time, your body can have a difficult time reestablishing blood flow around your surgical site.
Why does this happen?
When you are active, the muscles of the lower extremity pump blood in a rhythmic cycle. When you are not active, such as during travel, blood may pool resulting in increased risk of DVT or blood clots. The blood clots can sometimes migrate to the lungs and lead to significant breathing problems and possibly death.
What Can I Do to Mitigate Risks of Complications During Travel?
Helpful Strategies for Traveling After Surgery
Only you know how your body is feeling and healing after surgery. If you don’t “feel up to it,” – don’t do it. Most airlines will reschedule due to a medical condition. However, if travel is necessary or if you are traveling between the six- and twelve-week mark, please review these tips for helping keep you comfortable and safe during travel:
For any travel–plane, train, or automobile:
- Don’t overexert yourself. Give your body time to heal properly.
- Stay well hydrated
- Avoid alcohol
- Use a cane
- Wear compression socks/hose to help with blood flow
- Walk/stretch every half hour to an hour in the aisle or on the road to avoid blood clots in your legs
- Do ankle pumps while seated between walking in the aisle or stopping to walk while on the road
- Use wheelchair services when available
- Take medication just before boarding and/or long excursions.
- Avoid large crowds if possible.
- Take your time and use a cane or rely on your spouse/partner/friend as support
IMPORTANT: Always consult with your surgeon about any travel plans before you have your surgery. They may impact your recovery and you may need to move the surgery in order to accommodate your travel plans. Your safety is our number one priority, so always adhere to your surgeon’s orders. Each patient is different. There is no “one size fits all” plan for travel after surgery. So, while you can get some idea of when you can travel or tips for traveling, your surgeon’s word should be final. This will help ensure the long-term success of your surgery and quality of life.
Tips Specifically for Flying After Surgery:
- Book an aisle or bulkhead seat. Better yet, book business or first class if available.
- If your flight is longer than one hour, consult with your physician to see if you can begin taking one 81mg aspirin twice a day, two days prior to leaving. Continue this regiment throughout your trip and 14 days after your trip. The reason for this is to thin out your blood and allow for easier blood flow.
- Be sure to tell security you had a joint replacement
Special Note About Flying with Implants
As mentioned above, be sure to tell TSA that you had a joint replacement. Most commonly used orthopedic implants may set off metal detectors. Over 90% of orthopedic implants used in total hip arthroplasty (THA) and total knee arthroplasty (TKA) will set off airport metal detectors. Cards from surgeons are no longer needed to get through airport security but consider being screened by X-ray machine to reduce the likelihood of a pat down. Most of the time informing a TSA officer of your implant before screening begins will drastically reduce causing a scene at security.
As a final note, always listen to your surgeon (and your body). If you don’t feel comfortable traveling, then push it back a few weeks. Better to be safe than sorry.