With domestic travel finally starting to feel more commonplace and travel bubbles on the horizon, we thought it was time to address the question that so many of our patients have asked: Why do my feet and legs swell when I travel – and what can I do to stop it?

Foot & Ankle Swelling During Travel: Why It Occurs

When we fly, we sit for a long period of time with minimal movement or standing – aside from the occasional trip to the restroom. This means that our muscles, which help support the function of our veins and arteries in helping pump blood and fluid around legs, don’t get used. The result? The fluid pools in our feet and ankles over time simply due to gravity.

Should I Be Worried About My Feet Swelling During Air Travel?

Not necessarily – the mechanism behind the swelling makes sense, and isn’t indicative of anything serious. With this said, prolonged periods of sitting and immobilisation during air travel can increase the risk of blood clots, specifically deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), which can have dangerous consequences. 

Tips For Preventing Swollen Feet When Flying

  1. Avoid crossing your legs – this may further promote circulation restrictions and swelling
  2. Get standing – hands down one of the best things you can do is to get up and move around at least every hour. You know those people you see pacing up and down the aisle? They’re doing their feet and circulation a world of good!
  3. Move while sitting – both your hands and feet. Lift your toes up and down, move those ankles from side to side, and move your knees up and down. Getting those foot and leg muscles moving will help improve your blood flow and reduce swelling
  4. Wear compression stockings – compression stockings can help minimise or prevent swelling, with research showing that it may help reduce the risk of blood clot formation too
  5. Drink plenty of water – it’s dry in aeroplane cabins, which means you can quickly get dehydrated. Unfortunately, the alcohol or coffee that comes around on the cart won’t do the best job of keeping you hydrated, so make sure you drink plenty of water.
  6. Wear comfortable shoes  – not really a prevention strategy but more of a comfort strategy, don’t wear shoes that are tight or uncomfortable, especially when you know your feet are prone to swelling! This means that if your feet do swell, you’ll still hopefully be able to fit your shoes, and not have to limp off the plane

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