Here’s what you can do to avoid swollen ankles during your flight:
- Stay hydrated
- Stay in motion
- Apply a cream to circulate blood flow in the muscles
IF YOU SUFFER FROM SWOLLEN ANKLE, CALVES AND ANKLES WHEN YOU’RE AIRBORNE, YOU’RE NOT ALONE. HERE’S HOW TO AVOID ‘JET LAG’ FROM SPOILING YOUR VACATION!
With its fair share of stress, holiday planning comes – last minute packing, booking your shots, getting insurance… All in the expectation that your much-needed two weeks away will go as smoothly as possible and that as soon as you get there, you will be able to turn to relaxed mode. However, this can be greatly delayed if, as a result of a long-haul flight, the legs are heavy and swollen for the first few days.
Sitting on a flight for long periods will cause blood to pool in your legs and ankles, leading to fluids moving into the surrounding tissues from the blood and causing you to puff up (cankles, swollen ankles, all of us were there). While the pain and swelling may pass after only a few days for others, it may be much more dangerous for others, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), i.e. a clot in the veins of the legs.
As Professor Mark Whiteley, the consultant venous surgeon, tells us, the underlying causes for both are identical and it will help to make precautionary measures part of your holiday prep and the journey itself. The more you are able to maximize the flow of blood, the lower the chance of ballooning at your final destination.
Here’s what you need to do before a flight:
- See the length of your flight
The higher the air-time, the greater the risks to health. “Research seems to point to very low-risk flights of two or less hours, questionable-risk flights of two to four hours and significant-risk flights over four hours,” says Professor Whiteley. “If your flight takes more than four hours, you should think carefully about everything you can do to reduce the risk of getting swollen ankles.”
- Buy some socks for the flight
Compression socks are a necessary hand luggage to help keep DVT and swelling at bay and operate by adding pressure to the lower legs to improve blood circulation and decrease the risk of clotting. A very beneficial secondary mechanism is that they minimize the amount of swelling in the lower leg by pulling on the skin and subcutaneous tissue by decreasing the amount of fluid leaving the venous blood during a flight,” says Professor Whiteley.”
There are over-the-counter products available that come in a range of varying sizes and lengths. It is well worth seeking advice from a pharmacist or another health professional about sizing and proper fitting, although the better the fit, the greater the security they can offer. Professor Whiteley advises that daylong.co.uk should also be reviewed for stockings and helpful instructions.
In terms of strength, the NHS recommends that class 1 stockings that exert an ankle pressure of 14 to 17 mmHg are usually appropriate for a flight of four hours or more. In this regard, Scholl Flight Socks, £ 15.99, are a decent choice.
- Up your step count
Get as much walking into your week in the lead up to it if you have a long flight on the horizon to reduce the risk of DVT and swollen ankles – particularly if for most of the day you’re trapped behind a desk. “Research departments are increasingly showing that people in sedentary jobs are starting to accumulate blood cell clumps on the valves in their leg veins,” Professor Whiteley says.
The more someone runs, the more these tiny clumps vanish. What is not understood at the moment is how important these small clumps of blood cells are – whether they can begin to kill the valves and cause varicose veins, or whether they can cause a clot in the veins. What is clear, however, is that walking allows the superficial and deep veins to pump blood and decreases the number of these clumps. Therefore, particularly before a long flight, it can not be a bad thing to increase walking. A fast walk around the airport before your flight will also keep you in a good position.
- Book a seat in an aisle
This will guarantee that you are in a better spot during your flight to get any movement in. “Recent research has suggested that individuals who are stuck in a window seat are more likely than those in an aisle seat to get DVT,” warns Professor Whiteley. This is possibly because people in window seats are less likely to get up and walk, since they don’t want to bother anyone. Window seats often appear to have less legroom, which makes it particularly difficult to stretch the legs at regular intervals, increasing the risk of swollen ankles.
What you can do during a flight to avoid swollen ankles?
- Stay hydrated
Before, during, and after a flight, this is an important step to reduce the risk of DVT and swelling as you are more likely to develop a clot if you are dehydrated. But instead of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, opt for straight water as these will cause you to become more dehydrated by increasing the frequency that the loo needs.
Drinking more water can also help to mobilize fluids around the body, decrease retention and thus avoid swelling.
- Stay in motion
A flight is a perfect excuse for all of us to pop your headphones on and catch up on books, movies, and sleep. As a result, staying still for the duration is all too easy, which can dramatically increase your risk of post-flight complications. “Moving the legs periodically, especially walking up and down the aisle, causes the blood to pump up the veins, significantly reducing the risk of DVT and superficial venous thrombosis,” says Professor Whiteley. In addition to walking, either by your seat or in places such as the toilets, you can also do exercises. Many airlines offer advice on these basic exercises, such as standing on tiptoe or squatting down and standing up, that are helpful to mimic walking.
- Apply a cream for boosting circulation in leg
Slip off your shoes after taking your seat and apply a revitalizing body lotion like Elemis’ Instant Refreshing Gel, £ 32,40, to give a helping hand to your compression socks. To help improve circulation, active menthol offers a cooling sensation,” Noella Gabriel, co-founder of Elemis, tells us.” Ok, if you ask us, take the time to dispense in a 100 ml bottle.
We are also major fans of Legology Air-Lite Daily Lift for Legs, £ 48, a tired limon-scented wake-up call for tired limbs that’s perfect for tackling tightness and puffiness associated with the plane.
What to do post-trip to avoid swollen ankles?
- Go for a walk (although you’re tired of it)
We know, we know, the dream is to crash into the nearest sun lounger/bed after a long-haul flight. A little light motion, however, can help stop possible swelling in its tracks. Do some gentle exercise, such as going for a swim or a stroll, and then use a product such as Sharp Shower Body Wash, £ 21.60, with a shower, as the wild mint and peppermint are really energizing and uplifting,” Noella advises.”
This is also advised when it comes to reducing the chance of DVT as well. “Clots in veins develop progressively rather than just ‘appearing’ suddenly, so even if you begin to develop a small clot in the vein, if you go for a walk after the flight, it may disappear naturally or be very limited,” says Professor Whiteley. “If you develop a clot in the veins, on the other hand, going straight to bed, especially when dehydrated and in a hot environment, increases the risk that the clot will grow larger.”
- Keep drinking…
Water that is. “It is just as important to keep hydrated in the first few hours after a flight, as with the advice for going for a walk,” says Professor Whiteley. “If you are tired, less mobile, in a hotter country and may have already begun to develop a small subclinical clot in your veins, keeping hydrated reduces the risk that a clot will form or increase in size if it has already developed.”
- And if the swelling ever happens…
Seek professional assistance, particularly if your legs are becoming increasingly swollen and tender. “A venous duplex ultrasound scan performed by an experienced professional who scans veins all the time is the only real way to tell what’s going on in the leg,” says Professor Whiteley. “If you are seeking medical advice and a venous duplex ultrasound scan is not offered, you must be very sure that you are confident in the advice given.”
The earlier clots are spotted, the less harm is done. Professor Whiteley warns that “a clot that is not treated quickly and that becomes established is much more likely to lead to vein scarring and a long-term problem called post-thrombotic syndrome.” This can lead to long-term issues with leg health, leg ulcers, and an increased risk of potential deep vein thrombosis. A venous duplex ultrasound scan conducted early in individuals who are concerned about the risk of a blood clot may therefore be worth the effort.