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Becky Bailey

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Tips on how to avoid foot/ankle swelling on your next flight.

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Tips on how to avoid foot/ankle swelling on your next flight.

By Becky Bailey, PT, DPTairline
Spring break is approaching and you are looking to get out of town for a well-deserved vacation.  While packing your bags, you remember that the last time you traveled on a long airline flight, you suffered from ankle swelling.  So what can you do to prevent that this year?
Travel related leg swelling and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occur due to a slowing of blood flow through the veins.  Blood 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, certain people can be at risk for foot/ankle swelling and DVT.
The following are some tips on how to reduce the risk of foot/ankle swelling and developing a DVT on a lengthy flight.
•    Drink some extra water 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.  Muscles contractions act to pump fluid through your legs, preventing pooling.
Compression stockings and travel socks can be a good tool to help manage swelling and prevent DVTs.  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.  
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.ankle exercises
•    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 to wait for a restroom:
•    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.

The likelihood of developing a DVT for most people is very small, but taking a few simple precautions can help you arrive at your destination healthy and ready for adventure.

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