Long-haul flights may get notoriously uncomfortable, but even an hour or two in the air can lead to swelling in your legs. Being in a cramped space with little room to move your legs slows down your blood flow. Taking preventative measures helps reduce the risk of serious problems, such as blood clots, while exercise and a leg massage can cure basic swelling after your air travel.
Swollen Legs Basics
Sitting for an extended period of time often causes blood to pool in your legs, with no muscle movement to usher fluid out of your legs. Cabin air pressure can also lead to dehydration, which makes your blood thicker and more likely to pool. Typically, this swelling only lasts for a few hours after your plane ride.
Sometimes blood that pools in your legs forms blood clots, which then restrict blood flow in your veins. Swelling in one leg may indicate a blood clot, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Other symptoms include warmth and pain in the affected leg. When you lower your legs from being propped up or move from a sitting position to standing, you may notice sharp pain in the affected leg where blood is pooling on top of the blood clot.
To improve your circulation on a flight, avoid salt the day before travel and wear loose clothing on the plane. If you're at risk of developing blood clots due to hormonal birth control or recent surgery, ask for an aisle seat so you can stand up and move around more easily. Store your baggage in the overhead bin so you have room to stretch out your legs and flex your ankles regularly. Staying hydrated -- ordering water, not alcohol -- also helps prevent your blood from thickening and pooling.
How to Reduce Swelling
If your legs are swollen from a recent flight, the smartest thing you can do is walk away the swelling. Muscle movement pumps fluids from your legs and gets your blood flowing regularly again.Fortunately, exiting a plane usually means walking to the baggage claim carousel or the parking lot outside. And the first opportunity you get to prop your feet up and take off your shoes, give yourself a leg and foot rub to stimulate your circulation.