As if jet lag, security checkpoints and motion sickness weren’t bad enough, long trips can affect your legs and feet too. Technology has advanced to the point that it’s possible to travel thousands of miles in a day, but our bodies haven’t quite kept up. Anytime you sit in one position for hours at a time – whether it’s in a car, plane, train or bus – leg swelling is a natural consequence. It’s the result of blood and fluid pooling in the lower legs and it’s often harmless, if uncomfortable. Minor cases of leg swelling should resolve themselves within a few hours after traveling. A few simple remedies help speed up that process.
Get Blood Pumping Using Exercise
Going for a swim after traveling helps reduce any leg swelling, but it’s not an option in most cases. But exercise is ideal for de-puffing the legs and feet because it gets the blood flowing so it doesn’t stay settled in the lower extremities. Walk briskly through the terminal during a layover; spend a few minutes climbing stairs, or just do some jumping jacks in place. If your legs start swelling while you’re still stuck in a seated position, lift your feet and alternate pointing your toes forward and pulling them back toward the ankle. Move your feet in slow circles too.
Elevate the Legs
Putting your feet up during or after a long trip might feel counterintuitive; after all, you’ve been sitting all day. It might help the reduce swelling, though. Lie down for a few minutes with legs propped up on a pillow or rest them on a chair while sitting down. Even raising your feet a few inches off the ground should help get blood moving.
Pull on Compression Garments
Compression socks or stockings aren’t stylish, but they are useful. They put pressure on the leg veins and increase circulation to prevent blood from pooling there. Even if your legs are already swollen, donning compression socks should help push that fluid away from the lower extremities.
Seek Medical Treatment
Swollen legs can be a sign of a medical issue called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or the development of blood clots in the legs. The condition can turn fatal if the clots make their way to the lungs. People who are obese, have had recent surgery, are older than 40, have cancer, are pregnant or have given birth in the previous six weeks, use contraceptives containing estrogen, are on hormone replacement therapy or have any history of blood clots or vein issues are at increased risk of developing DVT.
If just one leg is swollen, if leg swelling is severe and doesn’t go down within a few hours or if you have any of the risk factors for DVT, don’t assume the issue will resolve itself. Call your doctor or visit an urgent-care center or ER right away. A doctor may run some tests to diagnose DVT and prescribe blood thinners to break up the clot.
Preventing Leg Swelling Next Time
All the strategies that help ease the symptoms of swollen legs are effective in preventing it from happening in the first place. Wear compression socks or stockings during travel. Your doctor may even prescribe custom-fit compression stockings if you’re prone to developing clots. Elevate your legs as much as possible. During a long trip, get out of your seat or out of the car every two to three hours to walk around. If you’re prone to leg swelling or have risk factors for DVT, book aisle seats on the plane when you fly, to allow for easy access to the aisle.