Most travelers experience hours of travel time in small, cramped seats. Sitting for long periods of time without realizing that your ankles have swollen to twice the normal size, discovering it after the plane lands, and walking all the way to baggage claim can be problematic due to the pain in your foot and may just exacerbate the issue by the time you reach your destination unless preventative steps are taken. Traveling is a very rewarding experience in itself, but it can take a toll on your body and blood circulation. Blood clots sometime form in the legs during travel due to restricted leg space. This blood clot is commonly referred to as the ‘economy class syndrome’ or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Developing blood clots on a flight have a very low risk but it will go up when travel time increases. Traveling for longer than eight hours straight can greatly increase the risk of developing blood clots
In some cases, the body may be able to recover on its own, but, in more severe cases, blood clots can cause painful swelling and a warm feeling in the affected area. You also run the risk of blood clots breaking up into smaller pieces and traveling through the blood vessels of your lungs causing pulmonary embolism (PE).
There are several symptoms that can arise from blood clots such as swelling, redness or discoloration the foot, pain or tenderness that is difficult to explain, and increased warmth over the affected area. Some of the symptoms of pulmonary embolism include: difficulty breathing; faster than normal or irregular heartbeat, chest pains or discomfort that may feel irritated after coughing or taking deep breathes, feeling overcome with anxiety or light-headedness, and coughing up blood. If you experience any of these symptoms, please seek medical attention immediately.
It is important for every individual to look out for potential increases in risk for developing blood clots during air travel. If the individual uses oral contraceptives, is pregnant or still at the postpartum period, is a cancer patient or has recently undergone surgery treatment, is obese with a body mass index (bmi) greater than 30 kg/ m2, has a history of previous blood clots or has a genetic predisposition to blood clots then you may want to take precautionary steps to avoid problems when traveling.
While a person is sleeping, blood pools in the leg veins and blood clots form due to the lack of muscle contractions that normally pump the blood out of the legs and up to the heart through casual daily movement. If blood clots are not treated properly they can grow and break off, traveling to the heart and lungs which may, ultimately, result in death. Not everyone will have the same risks, but people experiencing the circumstances mentioned earlier are far more likely to suffer from these critical symptoms.
Calf compression sleeves are specially fabricated elastic and tube-like garments that are worn on the lower legs to compress the leg muscles. Wearing calf compression sleeves can reduce or prevent cramps, pain or swelling due to long hours of sitting in small, cramped areas. At first, it may take a little practice to properly put on your calf compression sleeves and may also feel a bit too constrictive for first time users. A simple way to put on your compression sleeve is to turn the sleeve inside out, in reverse, insert the foot in the opening of the sleeve (the lower, ankle part of the sleeve) until it reaches just below the ankle and heel, then pull or roll over the top half of the sleeve over the calf until it reaches right below the knee. Make sure the calf compression sleeve fits perfectly. Always remember that if the sleeve feels too tight or painful, you are wearing the wrong size, which can eventually cause more harm than good. Calf compression sleeves should not feel like the calves are being strangled, it should feel like getting a gentle hug. There are also circulation tips you can do while traveling like getting up during the flight to take a short stretch. While the seat belt light is turned off, you might want to use that time to stretch and walk around every 2-3 hours or so during the flight. Even when taking long road trips, you should pull over to a nearby rest area every few hours and do deep leg bends. During long international flights, it is also vital to stay hydrated because dehydration can contribute to the development of blood clots. Another simple and beneficial circulation technique you can do is to position both knees up to your chest and to hold them there, similar to fetal position. Lastly, even in the sitting position you can do a foot exercise during the flight, like flexing the ankles, and give yourself a massage every so often.
Aside from the circulation tips for traveling, a person should be alert to the signs and symptoms of blood clots mentioned earlier. If someone thinks that he or she may be at risk of blood clots, consult with a trained physician. Be sure to follow the doctor's prescription on medication especially if he or she is on blood thinners like anticoagulants. Do not forget to wear calf compression sleeves while traveling for a business trip or if your just merely on vacation to get the proper blood circulation you need.
Wearing compression calf sleeves can alleviate the pains and improve circulation, but it cannot make the problem disappear. It cannot repair the issue that causes pain; you should seek help from a medical practitioner for proper diagnosis of your problem.
Disclaimer: This article should not be construed as medical advice. Please contact a licensed physician for a proper diagnosis of your specific case.