Is Foot Swelling During Air Travel a Concern?

Is Foot Swelling During Air Travel a Concern?

You’re looking forward to traveling again now that the pandemic restrictions have eased. Perhaps you’ve already taken a flight, and you noticed that your feet and/or ankles swelled when you were in the air. Why is this happening, and is it a health concern? 

David J. Kaplan, DPM, with FootCare Specialists is the expert you want to see for all things foot- and ankle-related. He can answer your questions about swelling in your legs, feet, and ankles. 

Why do feet swell during air travel? 

When you’re inactive for a few hours, blood starts pooling in your leg veins. Sitting with your feet on the floor for long periods of time produces pressure on the veins. Fluid starts moving into the tissues around your veins because you’re not using the muscles that pump excess fluid out of the legs.

You may not have a problem with swelling in your feet and ankles if you’re young, but as you age, your feet and ankles are more prone to swell. 

Your circulatory system may not be as good as it was when you were younger. Or you may be taking medications that can produce swelling in the legs and feet. 

If you have diabetes, professional foot care is essential to your health. Swollen legs, feet, or ankles can result in an ulcer, or open sore. 

How can I prevent swollen feet and ankles during air travel? 

Here’s a list of tips to help reduce foot and ankle swelling during a long flight. 

Get up and move

Don’t be a total couch potato during a long flight. Get up and walk up and down the aisle when the seat belt sign is off. Take a bathroom break. 

When you walk, your body pushes blood out of your calf and into both your superficial and deep veins. This keeps the blood flowing through your body so it has less chance of settling and pooling around your ankles.

Move your legs while seated

Periodically during a flight, bend and flex your ankles and raise your lower legs as much as you can when seated. Move your feet side to side and up and down. Avoid crossing your legs. 

Moving your legs helps excess fluid travel up toward your heart rather than pooling in your lower legs. 

Avoid salt

Avoid salt before and during your flight. Salt causes your body to retain excess fluid, which can end up in your legs and feet during air travel. Many airlines give out pretzels that are loaded with salt. It’s better to get a healthy snack option before boarding the airplane. 

Keep hydrated 

Being dehydrated causes your blood to thicken, which lowers blood circulation. Be sure you’re well-hydrated before and during your flight. Poor circulation can lead to blood clots. Bring your own water bottle and ask for water refills during the trip. 

Wear compression stockings

If you have a problem with swollen feet and ankles when flying, use compression stockings. Avoid socks that are tight around the ankle. 

Lose weight 

Being overweight or obese causes numerous health problems, one of which is increased fluid retention, leading to swollen legs, feet, and ankles. It also limits your body’s ability to move blood through your blood vessels, causing poor circulation. 

Losing weight helps reduce edema and brings many other health benefits. 

When to seek medical attention for swelling

If your feet and ankles swell during a flight but the swelling subsides shortly afterward, it’s not a serious concern. 

But if the swelling continues for hours after the flight and if the leg is red or warm to the touch or you have symptoms in only one leg, you need to seek medical care. A doctor can determine whether you have a blood clot, which can become a life-threatening condition. 

Call us or book an appointment online for all of your foot and ankle needs. We’ll keep your feet on the move from our offices in San Mateo and Half Moon Bay, California.

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