Dr James Mclean - Orthopaedic Surgeon
Dr James Mclean - Orthopaedic Surgeon
Dr James Mclean - Orthopaedic Surgeon

Flying After Shoulder Surgery

It is only natural to want to jump back in to your life’s normal activities after surgery. However, it is important for your recovery to abstain from activities that may impede your recovery. One of these activities is air travel.

Dr James McLean has provided the following general advice about flying after shoulder surgery. This information is to provide a guideline only – see Dr McLean for specialised advice for your circumstances.

How soon can I fly after shoulder surgery?

SA Ortho Dr James McLean recommends waiting for at least 2 weeks (14 days) before flying after shoulder surgery. During the first two weeks, your body is working incredibly hard to heal and it is important to keep physical stress at a minimum. Also, you will need to be available for a follow up appointment after your surgery, so it is wise to stay close. Having shoulder surgery may impact your ability to travel comfortably in a variety of other ways. Consider the following before planning your flight:

Airline regulations

Check with your airline before your flight to ensure you comply with their regulations. Each airline has its own policy for post-surgical passengers.
Click here for a list of popular Australian airline policies.


Any surgery carries a risk of infection. Airplanes are notorious places for bacteria to thrive, especially over long haul flights where passengers are eating, breathing, sweating, and toileting in close quarters. Be aware that your immune system may be compromised due to the stress of the surgery, and take precautions to keep your risk level as low as possible.


You must keep your shoulder as still as possible for the first few weeks after surgery. Your shoulder will be in a sling, and you may also be in pain. Think carefully about your ability to endure the tight space of an airline seat, especially for long or night-time flights.

Medical follow-up

Dr McLean will need to see you for a post-operative assessment after your surgery. Also, if there has been a complication after your surgery, it will show up within this time frame, so it’s important to be in reach of professional care.

Pain medication

Dr McLean may prescribe pain medication post-surgery. It is good practice to carry a copy of your prescription with a letter from Dr McLean authorising your medication. If you are travelling internationally, check with the local embassy of your intended destination for information on any medicinal restrictions for entry to the country.

Travel insurance

Certain travel insurance policies may not cover you for post-surgical issues while you are away. Check your policy carefully, and contact your insurance provider for advice.

Considerations for a safe flight

When you are cleared by Dr McLean to fly, consider the following for a safe and comfortable flight:

  • Choose a seat over the wing of the airplane for the smoothest ride.
  • Get a bulkhead seat if possible for a bit more room (avoid the exit rows as you will not be able to assist the crew in the event of an emergency).
  • Stay hydrated and do not consume caffeine, alcohol, or sugary drinks on the flight.
  • Move around before and during the flight where possible to improve circulation and reduce your risk of blood clots developing.

Where to seek further advice

Speak with Dr McLean about your post-surgery restrictions and requirements before booking your flight.

To book an appointment at one of our Adelaide locations, call us on 08 8267 8292.

Also read our related articles about getting medical clearance to fly, driving after shoulder surgery and after shoulder surgery care.