When you fly, you’re trapped in a tiny seat in an enclosed area without much room to move. As a result, you may land with swollen feet. To prevent swollen feet during air travel, it is important to move around as much as you can to get your blood flowing.
The low cabin pressure as well as the dry air circulating in the airplane may also inhibit blood circulation and cause swollen feet. When you’re dehydrated, your blood gets a bit thicker, which also reduces circulation. Even worse than swollen feet, poor circulation can allow dangerous blood clots to form in the legs, which can travel to the lungs and cause very serious health complications.
It is important to take steps to get your blood flowing. Here are tips to promote foot health during air travel.
- Watch your diet. The day of and day before you travel, avoid salt as much as possible. Salt can cause you to retain fluid, which can make your feet swell even more.
- Drink water. Drink plenty of water the day before and the day of the trip so that you don’t start out dehydrated. Bring a big bottle of water with you on the plane, and refill it as needed to stay hydrated. Another plus to drinking a lot of water: You will need to get up and walk to the bathroom when nature calls.
- Walk around. Get up several times during the flight, even if it’s just to pace up and down the aisles, to get your blood flowing. Try doing this several times each hour to prevent swelling in the feet and legs. “Move around and stand if allowed, especially on flights over two hours,” recommends Dr. Ford.
- Store your bags overhead. If your feet are fighting for space with your carry-on bags, they’ll be cramped even more into awkward positions that cut off the blood supply.
- Ask for an aisle seat. When you can, get an aisle seat. It will be easier for you to get up and walk around, and you’ll have more room to keep your feet comfortable. Bulkhead seats (in the front of the plane or each section) and emergency row seats offer the most room for you to stretch your legs.
- Treat your feet to a massage. Kick off your shoes, prop up your feet, and give them a well-deserved rub. A foot massage will help stimulate blood flow and prevent swelling.
- Exercise your feet. Even when you can’t get up and walk around, you can work the muscles in your feet. Point your toes up and down, side to side to get your feet moving. If your feet are swollen already, a few exercises can help get blood flowing again and reduce swelling.
- Elevate your feet. If possible, keep your feet propped up to stimulate circulation. If there’s no one next to you, stretch out and prop your feet up across the seats. At the very least, prop your feet up on the foot bar of the seat in front of you. If you are trying to relieve swollen feet, propping them up will help them get back down to size and feel better again.
- Don’t cross your legs. Your circulation is already slow when you’re sitting for hours, so don’t cut it off even more by crossing your legs.
- Wear proper footwear. “Wear compression socks or hose and avoid normal socks that constrict above the ankle,” suggests Ford. Also, slip-on shoes work the best. “They can be removed easily and allow you to massage your feet or exercise your feet.”