Travel is amazing. It introduces you to new people and cultures, it lets you learn about new architecture and natural wonders, and it gives you memories that you can cherish forever. Unfortunately, travel is also hard on your body.
Anyone who has traveled across several time zones knows about the joy of jetlag, but jetlag isn’t the only worry. If you spend a long time sitting, whether on a long flight or a long drive, you run the risk of swelling in your feel and lower legs. In most cases this swelling is nothing more than an inconvenience, but in a few cases that swelling could lead to a serious condition known as a deep vein thrombosis or DVT.(Image by Urch)
What is a DVT?
A DVT is a blood clot in one or more of the veins deep in your lower leg. There are several risk factors for DVT including pregnancy, hormonal medications, smoking, and heart disease, but it’s also possible for people without risk factors to develop them simply by being sedentary for long periods. This is because long periods of sitting causes blood to pool in the legs, and increases the risk of clotting.
If the DVT stays in place, it can block circulation and damage the tissues in the lower leg. However, if the DVT moves, or becomes an embolus, it could lodge in the lungs causing a fatal pulmonary embolism.
This is why it’s important to take steps to prevent leg swelling during long trips.
Stand up and move around. Movement is the best way to prevent swelling because it helps push blood through your veins. If you’re on a plane, this could mean taking a short stroll down the aisle. If you’re on a long road trip, this could mean stopping every couple of hours to walk and stretch your legs.
Exercise your feet.
Just moving your feet can help boost circulation. Wiggling your toes, raising your heels, and rolling your feet around can keep the blood flowing when you’re not able to get up and move around.(Image by North Hills)
Wear compression socks or tights.
Of course, not all trips are conducive to moving around, or even exercising your feet. For example, on a packed international flight your fellow passengers might not appreciate you climbing over them to walk the aisles every few hours. The guy sitting next to you might not appreciate you bouncing your knees to keep the blood flowing. In those instances, many types of support socks can give you many of the same benefits as walking around, without disturbing the other passengers.
Wear comfortable footwear.
In addition to compression socks, you should also wear comfortable and non-constricting shoes. The shoes should give you room to wiggle your toes, and be easy to take off and put on. If you are on a long road trip, you might even consider going barefoot.
Drink plenty of un-carbonated, non-alcoholic liquids.
Liquids dilute your blood and keeps it from thickening as it pools in your lower leg. Drink plenty of liquids before your trip and try to stay well-hydrated during. Avoid caffeine, and alcohol which can act as a diuretic.
Ask for a spacious seat.
Over the years, airplane seats have gotten smaller to allow airlines to cram more passengers onto each flight. This not only means flying with more people, it also means more cramped conditions that can actually contribute to leg swelling and DVTs. However, there are some ways to get a little more space, without having to spend extra on a first-class seat. Bulkhead seats tend to have a little more space because they are at the front of the plane, or the front of each section. The seats near the emergency exits often have a small space between the seat and the wall. Sitting on the aisle will give you a little more room than the window or center seat.
Avoid crossing your legs and ankles. Crossing your legs, and even your ankles, constricts the circulation in your legs, making swelling worse.
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Feature image by AliRose34