Traveling After Joint Replacement: Questions Answered

March 23, 2015

By: Kathleen A. Hogan, MD

When can I travel? Will my new hip replacement set off metal detectors at the airport? Can I get a card to prove that I had my knee replaced? These are common questions of patients are planning on traveling after joint replacement.

Security Screening When Traveling After Joint Replacement

Hip and knee replacements are made of metal and will be detected by most metal detectors at airports and other security screening stations. Prior to the terrorist attacks of 2001, airline screeners would accept a card or physician note stating that a metal implant had been placed and no additional screening was needed. That is no longer the case. The TSA will not accept any card as proof of a joint replacement. If a metal detector is set off, additional screening will be required.

The use of full body X-ray scanners at most airports in the United States has made travel much easier for the millions of travelers with metal implants. Although the metal implant will be picked up by the X-ray scanner, it will be clear that the metal is in the bone. Occasionally, a simple pat down of the body part is done, but the screening process is much less time consuming than it was previously. Additionally, people with pacemakers or other implanted electronic devices who used to have to bypass the metal detector and be screened by hand now can usually pass safely through the X-ray scanner.

Recommendations for Safely Traveling After Joint Replacement

It is safe to travel after a hip or knee replacement. If the surgery was done within the last 6 weeks, you should discuss with your surgeon if any particular treatment for the prevention of blood clots is recommended. Recent surgery is a risk factor for blood clots as is prolonged sitting, and dehydration; make sure to drink water on your flight. For flights longer than 4 hours in duration, I recommend getting out of your seat and moving around the aircraft every few hours. Compression stockings can help prevent swelling in your legs and decrease the risk of blood clots. Taking aspirin before and after a long flight may also decrease this risk. However, if you have had a prior blood clot, have a family history of blood clots, are taking birth control pills or hormone replacement medications, have had recent surgery or have cancer, you may be at much higher risk. Sometimes prescription anticoagulants are recommended for individuals at high risk of blood clots. If you have any concerns, be sure to talk to your doctor before your flight.

Most major airports are large and much walking is required to get from the terminal entrance to your gate. If you walk with a cane or walker or have cardiac or pulmonary problems that limit your ability to walk long distances, consider asking for wheelchair assistance. You do not need a physicians note to take advantage of this service. This can help you to arrive at your destination without being exhausted from airport travel.

I hope this article has answered many of your questions about traveling after joint replacement. Enjoy your trip and don’t forget to talk to your doctor before your trip if you have any concerns!