Amongst other reason to fly after surgery, medical tourism is a growing trend with orthopaedic surgery recorded amongst the popular specialist areas for which patients leverage medical tourism. Many people travel from around the globe to be seen by a medical specialist.

Medical Tourism involves traveling to another country to obtain the treatment required. Reasons behind these types of trips are many, common ones being expensive healthcare costs, inadequate medical insurance, lack of specialist-driven procedures, no access to the latest technologies or seeking alternative treatments that are not available/approved in the host area or country.

However, as medical tourism expands, guidelines must be established to allow for appropriate patient advice, as there is are risks and preventative measures which  patients need to be aware of when it comes to air travel.

The most important post-operative air travel recommendation, would be to focus on the decrease in deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism rates. Although it is very rare for a person to develop a DVT from a long flight, airline passengers are sedentary with their legs bent for extended periods of time and tend to become somewhat dehydrated during flight. Each of these factors may contribute to blood clot formation.

Recommendations to reduce DVT risk when flying

  • Make sure you get up and walk about regularly when permitted during a flight
  • Try to complete calf muscle stretches at least every hour
  • Make sure you drink plenty of fluids (not alcohol) to avoid dehydration
  • Consider the use of compression stockings if you have multiple risk factors

Does flying increase risk of blood clots after surgery?

There is a general risk of clotting for up to four to six weeks after surgery for all patients, but flying long distances aggravates this problem further. As a result, those who travel such distances may be subject to enhanced preventive measures after their procedure.

Guidelines on travel after surgery

  • Most minor orthopaedic operations – wait at least 24 hours after surgery (eg. keyhole surgery and other operations lasting less than 60 minutes)
  • Major upper limb surgery – wait at least seven days after surgery (eg. open shoulder surgery)
  • Leg operations lasting more than 60 mins – wait at least seven days after surgery (eg. knee ligament reconstruction, hind foot surgery)
  • Hip or knee joint replacement – risk of travel-related DVT is increased for three months, so avoidance is advised.
  • Plaster cast applied – OK for short flight (less than two hours) after 48 hours. For longer flights, casts should be split to avoid problems with soft tissue swelling. The risk of DVT is higher with lower limb casts, especially if not weight bearing, and active precautions should be considered which you need to discuss with your doctor.

We would advise you, if flying after an operation, to check with  your airline as they may have their own guidance / policy in place, and make sure that your travel insurance providers are informed (which may increase the cost, but otherwise you risk having your cover cancelled).

This article ” Risk and prevention of blood clots when flying – post surgery ”  does not provide medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor for all medical advice. 


Meet Dr Peter Smith, a leading Orthopaedic Surgeon operating from the Mediclinic Milnerton in Cape Town, Western Cape. His practice is situated in the heart of this seaside town.  Dr Peter Smith not only offers patients the full spectrum of professional orthopaedic treatments, but specialises in total knee replacement, total hip replacement, sports injuries and the latest arthroscopic surgery techniques and computer guided surgery. He gained extensive experience in the latest arthroplasty techniques during his stay of 6 years in Australia where he performed more than a hundred primary and revision hip and knee replacements cases in a year.



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