When is it safe to fly following an operation

By Professor Tony Kochhar, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, at London Bridge Hospital.

I’ve had a few post-op patients asking when it is safe for them to fly, and what precautions they should take.

Generally, flying post-op is safe if patients are aware of the risks and manage them. For my patients I normally advise at least a week after an operation to allow any side effects of general anaesthetic (if they’ve had this - many operations are now “awake” and don’t need a general anaesthetic) to wear off, for them to be comfortable in a sling and for pain to be at a manageable level.

There is a heightened risk of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) after surgery which vary from patient to patient and should be discussed with the patient’s operating surgeon or GP. Measures to help mitigate this risk include:

  • staying well hydrated on the day of and day after each flight
  • moving around the plane and performing small elbow, wrist and hand movements as shown by the post-op physical therapist
  • taking an paracetamol, if recommended, according to the patient’s medical history.

Generally the risk of DVT after shoulder and upper limb surgery is low (less than one per cent*) but it’s important patients are aware of it.

In addition to this the general post-op precautions still apply - many patients forget that they are still recovering from an operation when they are in sunnier climes!

*Thromboembolic Phenomena After Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery, Kuremsky et al. 2011

Venous thromboembolism incidence in upper limb orthopedic surgery: do these procedures increase venous thromboembolism risk?, Hastie et al. 2014

HCA Healthcare UK blogs are for general use only and should not replace the medical guidance provided by an individual’s healthcare professional.