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air travel (or general comments) following hip replacement surgery

I had to guess on the topic, but I am curious about other travelers experiences following hip replacement surgery. I will be scheduling such in the near future; sooner rather than later would be preferable. A possible issue could be a planned transatlantic cruise beginning May 7th. The cruise leaves from Miami, so we would fly there on May 6th. We would have 7 days at sea before the first port of call, then another sea day before following the Portuguese and Spanish coasts and arriving at Barcelona 8 days later. We plan to spend an additional 4 days in Barcelona. My research has indicated that recovery from the surgery usually takes 2-6 weeks, so a March surgery date fits the timeline. I am 66 years old with no underlying health conditions and until my hip began troubling me I was fairly active. I am aware of complications of air travel following hip replacement, but I would appreciate hearing from Forum participants about their experiences.

Posted by
2144 posts

“…a March surgery date …”

Was that a typo? I can’t imagine a surgeon approving travel just days after a hip replacement. The flight is one issue, the amount of walking needed on a cruise ship (and then in Barcelona) is another. Too much activity too soon can lead to an alarming amount of leg swelling, as my husband discovered.

Discuss this with your surgeon. I suspect you will need to postpone either the cruise or the surgery.

Posted by
1523 posts

Have you checked with your surgeon regarding whether this travel is advisable? The statement recovery usually takes 2 to 6 weeks should be a precautionary one as often things don’t go as usual. When would you schedule it in March since you’re leaving home on March 6?

My husband had hip replacement surgery in March 2021. He was 77 years old and was physically fit. Everything was fine, walking slowly to rebuild his strength and even climbing stairs, until 10 days later it wasn’t. He developed a hairline fracture and had to be completely off his feet for six weeks. His surgeon approved of our first trip after the surgery in September 2021. He brought a folding cane as a precaution and we both were nervous that he might be injured. All went well and he is back to normal. I offer our experience as a cautionary tale as others have had better experiences.

Please discuss this with your surgeon and consider what you would do if you don’t experience the usual recuperation. If usual could be six weeks your time line doesn’t work.

Posted by
1602 posts

"My research has indicated that recovery from the surgery usually takes 2-6 weeks, so a March surgery date fits the timeline." - Are you saying hip surgery at the beginning of March followed by a flight and trip on the 6th March? I can't speak to your tolerance levels to pain or discomfort but I wouldn't do it, even if flying first class. One minor mishap and you could be back where you started.

I'm 65 and had a hip replacement at 50 (I was a soccer goalie for about 40 years, indoor and outdoor). I was pretty fit at the time for my age but it took way longer than 2 weeks to function decently, though we all heal differently. Not so much pain but an uncomfortable grating sensation for a number of weeks after, and I couldn't imagine enjoying a trip feeling like that.

I was off pain killers very quickly (Christmas time, and I needed my bowls of punch), exercised religiously three or four times daily for three months: it payed dividends in the long run, I'm still an avid walker on all sorts of terrains. Once in a blue moon the hip still locks up, a simple standing up or shift alleviates that problem.

Posted by
23427 posts

This is strictly a medical decision. The issue I would raise is the post-op examinations. I recently had back surgery in December (I know it is not the same) and have had a series of post op follow ups with xrays to make sure everything is healing properly. I would think you would have a number of follow up exams and PT. Good luck.

Posted by
10294 posts

Ouch. Difficult decision. But, you should wait for the surgery, even though you won't be pain-free during the cruise.

I don't know if you've taken a transatlantic before, but those seven days at sea are way out there. You won't see even a bird for seven days. ,No helicopter can pluck you off the ship if something goes wrong: blood clots, fracture, swelling.... My first transatlantic, we had a lot of rocky weather. A woman fell near the ice/water machine. Because her broken femur was threatening an artery., she had to lie in the infirmary in one position. The doctors said she had to be off within 48 hours. To save her, the captain put all the engines into high gear, had to find a port that could accommodate the ship to get her to a hospital. Bermuda was closed due to the bad seas, but the ship was accorded one-hour at a berth in Nassau forty-eight hours later. This is not something you want.

BTW, In December, when I did that exact itinerary but from Barcelona, the captain took us way south off the Senegalese coast and then across, avoiding the big waves. Ships appear to be taking longer to cross now, going more slowly, fuel efficiency.

Posted by
8590 posts

My SIL had a replacement, and 6 months was a more reasonable recovery time, with daily physical therapy for at least the first month. Still not getting around well. There's more to it than just the wound healing.

Posted by
5037 posts

These are questions only your Orthopedic surgeon can answer. I think air travel is the least of your worries. The more concerning part would be the many sea days where the ship would be out of reach of any med evac help, as Bets mentioned. I can't imagine any doctor giving the okey dokey to such a trip in less than 6 weeks post OP. Talk to your doctor.

Posted by
2095 posts

I honestly think your surgeon will nix your cruise. Make a call to him before you put any money down that you can’t get back.

Posted by
1302 posts

As the proud owner of a new ceramic hip joint (I asked for the Sports GTX version!) which I got in April 2021, it took me about a year to where I can get out and hike and just recently, nearly two years later, with my consultant’s blessing, attempt a few short jogs. The problem I had was not the immediate recovery, which went fine (incidentally if they give you two walking sticks, use both of them rather than just the one even if you don’t think both are necessary to avoid developing an inadvertent limp) but some of the associated problems following the fairly traumatic operation (which was described to me as part high tech surgery, part woodwork and part butchery). I had what I thought was sciatica, solved with anti inflammatories over a couple of weeks - I understand it is a relatively common problem following a hip replacement - and a much more lingering, painful bout of tendinitis in the hip tendons which lead to the grating sensation described by Gundersen, with attendant clicking and stabbing pains which meant raising my foot more than half an inch off the floor was very painful.

Unfortunately the tendinitis was not or misdiagnosed for months until, quite by chance I ended up seeing my surgeon again (he thought I was there for my annual review) who correctly diagnosed the problem in about three minutes. The problem was fixed by a) time - it was improving slowly by that stage and b) a cortico steroid injection into the groin as prescribed by my surgeon. It’s quite difficult to quantify how much the injection contributed to the recovery, but suffice to say the problem is now fixed.

The point is I kept trying to push through all the time and was happy to put up with the discomfort once I was convinced it wasn’t thing more major damage to continue trying to say hike etc. Although I did resort to a mild analgesic now and again! Suffice to say if you are happy to accept that you might be in at least discomfort or even tolerate real pain, you can probably get away with it.

Sadly though, I’m pretty sure that the final say on your planned cruise will come down to your surgeon, with potential contributions from your travel insurers (best to be upfront with them from the get go - leave them zero ‘wriggle room’) and the cruise line and airline you plan to travel with. Again they need to be informed of your plans/situation.

Good luck with the hip replacement, I’m really glad I got mine replaced. Mind you, it’s not like I had much of a choice if I wanted to walk more than ten yards. Just don’t expect to be good as new after six weeks, in my own and others experiences it’s definitely ‘two steps forward, one step back’ for a while - it’s reckoned it takes eighteen months to two years to get the maximum benefit after what is major surgery, even if they do hoof you out of hospital in a couple of days!

Ian

Posted by
10294 posts

Couple of days--LOL--in the US, they are sending people home the same day. Drive through hip replacements.

Posted by
3197 posts

I was a nurse for more years than I care to count and would never attempt to have any major surgery and go traveling two months later.
"Two to six weeks recovery" is very general.
I've had two knee replacements and didn't feel really normal again for 5 to 6 months.
Even if your cruise is in May, a March surgery date makes it too early for you to be thinking about traveling so far so soon afterward.
You have no idea if you will have any complications post op .
(I hope you don't!)
Apart from anything else, you may not get medical travel insurance that would cover you.
Wait till you come home from your cruise before you have surgery, or have the surgery and postpone the cruise.
Just my opinion, but you did ask!

Posted by
1302 posts

Bets -

To be fair I was in only a little over twenty four hours - had op at five-ish, back home by half four the next day. There were extensive tests to see if my bladder still worked (good as new!) and if I could negotiate stairs. After that they booted me out. Not that I wasn’t happy to leave other than I ordered dinner for both nights and managed to get neither, so somewhere there’s a chef going “who is this complete pillock who keeps ordering chicken and then not eating it?”

Ian

Posted by
1426 posts

Well that does make a difference, LOL! Nevertheless, the advice that you have a very honest discuss with your surgeon still stands. My MIL just had her hip replaced. She is significantly older than you and not nearly as physically fit. But she did have a couple of minor hiccups post-op that were unrelated to age or fitness. So have that conversation with your doc.

Posted by
201 posts

The comment about being in the middle of the Atlantic without medivac capability is well-taken. The cruise has been planned for over a year; the surgery has just been recommended since failure of everything else to alleviate the pain. I have alternatives; I can get a steroid shot (sickens me more than the thought of surgery) in my hip before the cruise and have surgery when I return. I've limped around for several years so a few more months would not be that much more to tolerate. Has anyone tried to take a cane on a plane recently, maybe with a doctor's note?

Posted by
201 posts

And, ianandjulie, my brother has you beat. He had his 2nd replacement in November. His wife said the actual surgery took 15 minutes. If he hadn't been the last surgery of the day they wouldn't have kept him overnight. He was home by 9:00 the next morning.

Thank you all for your comments.

Posted by
2354 posts

I think you are confusing “recovery time” with “good as new”. I had a hip scope, which is minor in comparison. I was non-weight bearing for weeks. Physical therapy was 3x/wk for months starting the day after surgery. I wasn’t “back to normal” for several months.

If the recovery from a hip replacement is that quick, it gives me hope since I’ll need one eventually.

Posted by
1860 posts

Not hip, but knee replacement. I waited slightly more than 6 months to take my R.S. Heart of France trip. Even then, because of all the stairs & lack of elevators in hotels I still had a few more achy days than I did at home by that point in recovery. My surgeon had requested I wait 6 months to go overseas. However, because I waited until this point in my recovery I was able to walk up the cobblestones to the Abbey at the top of Mont St. Michel in France. Like others have said, consult your surgeon.

Posted by
11384 posts

Definitely need to discuss with you MD.

1- Can surgery be done in March and you be travel ready by May?

2- Can you postpone the surgery until after your return without running the risk of reaching a point where immediate intervention is needed during the trip?

3- Is your 'just tough it out' plan, really an option.

Are your flights in coach or the pointy end of the plane?

You assemble 10 people who have had hip surgery and I suspect each would have a unique story of their recovery, even if some sort of general trend was related. Where in the spectrum of time and decreased function you will land in, is uncertain.

Posted by
3961 posts

As a medical provider for years, my comment: I would suggest your questions be directed to your Surgeon. I believe this is the best opportunity to make an informed decision.

Posted by
5037 posts

I've limped around for several years so a few more months would not be
that much more to tolerate. Has anyone tried to take a cane on a plane
recently, maybe with a doctor's note?

In case you decide to postpone surgery until after your cruise: Yes, you can absolutely take a cane on any plane. Ive been doing that for many years. No doctors note necessary. FYI, there is a proper way to use a cane, and many ways that are less than helpful. Learn how to use it- on level surfaces, inclines, and stairs (going up AND down), as soon as you get it.

Posted by
546 posts

I had my hip replaced in mid-November and it took 10 weeks for me to feel strong enough again to go to work (I work at Trader Joe's, so it's standing and a bit physical). It will take many more months for me to feel like I'm really physically fit again. My hip hurt a lot beforehand but I still was able to take a 3 week trip to Tuscany in September. However, I had to go into that trip with the thought that I would not be able to do a lot of things due to the hip pain and inability to walk long distances. I enjoyed my trip, because it was a vacation after all, but at times I felt I was missing out on a lot. The hip replacement totally fixed the pain, immediately, but as others have stated, it takes quite a while to get your strength back. Are you willing to take that long anticipated cruise and not really be able to enjoy it due to pain or inability to walk distances? My wish for you is to have the hip replacement surgery and postpone your cruise. If you're spending all that money and time on a vacation like that, I think you would really enjoy it so much more being able to walk without pain. Good luck!

Posted by
201 posts

Last year with hip pain I was on the RS "Athens and the Pelopponese" (You would think I could spell it by now) in the early spring and a North Atlantic cruise in August. The transatlantic cruise is definitely happening; hopefully a steroid shot will help somewhat. Funny how that wasn't even suggested before last week. If I can have surgery upon returning, I will forgo fall and winter travel to allow months for recuperation.

Posted by
2146 posts

Susan--I feel for you as I am I the same piston but with a knee replacement. I am having it done immediately upon returning from a hiking trip to Iceland for 17 days. When my surgeon and I talked in December, I knew it would be pushing it to have the surgery done now and be good for the trip, so I am waiting. It is hard as we don't want to give up any travel time, but of course our bodies have different agendas sometimes:)

Posted by
1860 posts

I think you have to wait 3 months after a steroid shot to have surgery. Will that work with your schedule?

Posted by
976 posts

I need both knees and my hip replaced. My orthopaedic surgeon told me that I wouldn't be able to travel for six months after any of these procedures. I am heading for Spain next week with walking cane, knee braces and painkillers and no surgery date scheduled yet.

Also check if the cruise company has any exclusions related to surgery and whether you will be able to get travel insurance so close to surgery.

Posted by
201 posts

I am speaking with the surgeon on Tuesday. My inclination is to have the shot in early March and do everything I can to improve outcomes of the surgery (lose a few pounds, exercise to strengthen muscles, re-arrange thing in the house, etc.) and then have the surgery after the cruise. Maybe by the holidays I'll be ready for another big trip. It is difficult to rationalize health issues and travel. My husband and I had big plans that were upset by the pandemic which explains the burst of travel last year; we are not getting any younger.
Thanks to all of you for your comments. It's amazing how travel becomes an important part of your life., and is just as difficult to give up as coffee, cigarettes, etc.

Posted by
2456 posts

Susan, I feel your pain. I needed total knee replacement surgery and struggled with when to do it as it would interfere with my frequent travel schedule. I simply did not want to stop traveling. Like you, I soldiered through the pain for quite a few years and even hiked Chamonix and a glacier in Alaska albeit with hefty doses of ibuprofen and cortisone shots. I finally bit the bullet and planned the surgery for the early fall of 2018 as I knew I wouldn’t be traveling again for 6 months and would have time to recuperate and get my strength back. I did the physical therapy diligently (don’t skip this part) and felt great within two months. But I have known others who have had complications from hip and knee surgery. Build in some time in your travel schedule and give yourself time to heal properly. You won’t regret it. Good luck with your future surgery.

Posted by
131 posts

You don't need a doctor's note to get on the plane with a walking cane. I recently flew to Costa Rica, with torn ligaments in my foot. Walked with my cane; got to board early with the wheelchair passengers. In fact, with Delta, they found ME at the gate and told me to board early.

Posted by
3197 posts

It's great, in some ways, when you need a cane for travel.
I needed one in 2019 going to Italy, as my previous replacement parts in one knee started to crumble three weeks before leaving.
I and the friend I was with, were given priority in airport security lines, told to bypass about 300 grumbling people when they saw the guard single me out and wave us in first.
They gave me a wooden cane to use for 5 minutes while my own one was x-rayed.
We were given a "cart" ride through Montreal Airport to catch our next flight.
We were also offered priority boarding on both flights to Italy.
When we arrived in Rome, I thought that would be the end of it, but a huge Security Guard there at Passport Control saw me, rushed over, manhandled me into a wheelchair and told my friend: "You! Run behind with the luggage!"
We literally were speeded to the front of the line and were out on the street 10 minutes afterward.
All through our trip, very kind people offered me a seat in markets, shops, etc.

I was truly amazed.