Swollen feet during air travel

Long- haul flight? Don’t let tired legs ground you, land on the tarmac ready to go. When you are flying you can be seated and inactive for long a period of time.This can have an effect on your feet, which is exacerbated if you already have foot problems or any other physical health hazards. 

How can you nip these problems in the bud? Podiatrist Dr Brandon Maggen has few tips on how to relieve swollen feet during a flight:

  • Wear loose fitting clothing.
  • Take a short walk every hour or so.
  • Flex and extend your ankles and knees frequently while you're seated.
  • Shift your position in your seat as much as possible, being careful to avoid crossing your legs.
  •  Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  •  Avoid alcohol and sedatives, which could make you too sleepy to walk around the cabin.

If you’re at risk for blood clots in the legs, speak to your doctor before flying. He or she will most likely recommend compression stockings and, in some cases may even prescribe blood-thinning tablets.

Take care if you’ve recently had an operation, take birth control pills and are at risk for blood clots. If you’re pregnant, a smoker, suffer from obesity, heart failure, dehydration, varicose veins, or if you are just concerned, then speak to your doctor before flying.

Biggest risk factors

  • History of leg clots  
  • Certain blood disorders
  • Prior history of, or currently suffering from a malignant disease, e.g. cancer
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pregnancy or a recent birth
  • Post-thrombotic syndrome
  • Chronic venous insufficiency
  • Hormone treatment (including the oral contraceptive pill and oestrogen), containing hormone replacement therapy
  • Recent major surgery or injury, particularly affecting the lower limbs or abdomen, especially the hips or knees
  • Dehydration

Research suggests that smoking, obesity and varicose veins can also compound your susceptibility to swelling and clots.

In addition to the above Dr Maggen said, when flying, swelling and blood clots become more a risk factor if  you experience:

  • Extended periods of immobility
  • A cramped position for the duration of the flight (this may include keeping a seated posture for the duration of the flight)
  • Dehydration as a result of alcohol intake
  • Compression of the vein behind the knee by the edge of the seat

Dr Maggen recommends the following:

  • If any of these categories apply to you or you have any concerns about your health and flying, it is recommended you seek medical advice before travelling.
  • Compression stockings can assist in preventing swelling of the ankles and feet and they may improve the blood return to the body from the lower legs. The stockings may be purchased from medical and surgical supply companies and will need to be individually fitted to your leg measurements.

(Health24, Ncumisa Magadla, November 2011)

Read more:


Swelling feet and ankles

Visit Health24's Feet Centre

Source:  brandon@sorefeet.co.za Dr Brandon Maggen

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