I recently spoke with Dr. Bailey, my physical therapist, about my upcoming long haul flight since I have varicose veins despite them being surgically treated twice. Additionally, as many people my age realize, our ankles/feet swell. I asked her what I should do to minimize DVT and to help my swollen ankles/feet. She wrote this article for the readers of Air, Land and Sea.
Travel related Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs due to a slowing of blood flow through the veins. Blood can pool and a clot can form. This typically occurs in the lower leg due to gravity and a dependent (hanging) position. Vascular flow is maintained by muscle activity. On long haul flights (longer than 4 hours) muscle activity can be diminished. Combine that with limited space and mild dehydration and certain consumers can be at risk for a DVT. Symptoms don’t generally happen immediately which makes it difficult to spot.
Things can be done to help prevent the development of DVTs. The following are some tips on how to reduce the risk of developing a DVT on a long haul flight.
- Hydrate the day before the flight and during the flight
- Wear compression stockings to keep your legs from swelling
- Avoid alcohol the night before or during the flight because it will dehydrate you. The same goes for coffee, soft drinks, and chocolate.
- Try to get an aisle seat so you can easily walk around the plane.
- Do exercises in your seat or during your flight to improve muscle activity
Compression stockings and travel socks can be a good tool to help manage swelling and prevent DVTs for both men and women. Stockings with a pressure of 15-20mm Hg are adequate to prevent swelling and DVTs. Travel socks/compression stockings can be purchased online and at several travel websites. For Your Legs is a site that has free shipping and quick service. Be sure to take good measurements according to the brand that you are ordering. Some stockings can also be purchased at medical equipment supply stores. Be careful with sizing as most stockings cannot be returned once they have been opened.
Walking and standing during a flight can be helpful in keeping blood flow in your lower extremities. Also make sure to wear clothing that won’t cause any constriction behind your knees when sitting for a long time.
Exercises can be done in your seat during a flight to encourage blood flow in the lower legs.
- ABCs – lift your feet off of the floor and “draw” the ABCs (capital letters) once every ½ hour.
- Heel lift/Toe lift –keep your feet on the floor and lift your toes off the floor (hold for 10 seconds) then lift your heels off the floor (hold for 10 seconds) Alternate 10 times every ½ hour
- Squeeze your buttocks muscles together as if lifting yourself up in your seat (hold for 10 seconds) and repeat 10 times every hour.
- Tighten and squeeze your thighs together as if you are squeezing a ball between your knees (hold for 10 seconds) and repeat 10 times every hour.
You can also perform some simple exercises while standing waiting for a restroom. Be careful not to disturb those around you and practice good etiquette. Avoid pulling at the seat in front of you or bumping into others as your try and stretch.
- Heel lift – Lift yourself up onto your toes and repeat 20 times.
- Balance on one foot and bring the opposite leg up toward your chest- hold 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times each.
- Bend your knee and bring your heel up behind you near your buttock-hold 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times
- High Marching while standing in line.
Risks associated with developing a DVT for most people are very small but taking a few simple precautions can help you arrive at your destination ready for an adventure.
Thank you for your information. I’m sure this will help many of my readers including me.