Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Flying for a long distance can be too uncomfortable. You cannot move your legs sufficiently and that may make your ankles, feet and legs swell after flying. Though it is a common problem for long distance fliers, it can also be a symptom of some serious medical conditions in certain cases. In this article, we will talk about some of the causes, treatments and preventive measures for swollen ankles from flying.

Swollen Ankles From Flying

When you sit still in one particular position for a prolonged position, like in an airplane while flying, you can have swelling of your ankles and legs. Though this is not a permanent condition, and is rarely harmful, but swollen ankles can actually make you uncomfortable at times. Sitting with your feet on the floor for a long time causes blood to pool in your leg veins. Apart from this, the position of your legs while you are sitting in an airplane also increases pressure in your leg veins. This contributes to the swelling of ankles, feet and legs, by causing fluid to leave the blood and move into the surrounding soft tissues.

Causes Of Swollen Ankles From Flying

Swollen ankles and feet are medically termed as Edema, that can make fitting into shoes pretty painful after flying. Swollen ankles can be a common sign you can experience from flying. Listed below are some of the causes of swollen ankles from flying:

Fluid Retention:

Accumulation of fluid in your body is one of the major causes of swollen ankles from flying. Since you cannot move your legs sufficiently while flying, the blood flow in the legs slows down; which in turn causes swollen ankles and swollen feet.

Pregnancy Complication:

Swelling of the ankles and feet can be common in pregnant women while flying. This is nothing to worry, unless these is no severe swelling or pain. However, you need to visit doctor in case of extreme swelling after flying

Menstrual Periods:

You may also experience swollen ankles from flying if you are on your menstrual periods. Some women may also experience blood clots.

Obesity:

Obesity can also be one of the causes for your ankles and feet to swell after flying.

Certain Medications:

Certain medications like diabetes medicines, antidepressant, medicines for blood pressure, etc. may cause swelling of ankles, feet and legs. You need to check with your doctor about the side effects of the medications and also know about the appropriate dosage for your condition, especially when you are planning on long distance travel.

Blood Clots:

Blood clots can be one of the main reasons for swollen ankles from flying. You need to consult your doctor as it can sometimes be life threatening. Blood thinners may be recommended by your doctor if you have blood clots that are accompanied with fever.

Kidney and Heart Diseases:

Swelling of the ankles, feet and legs may also be caused in some kidney and heart diseases. If swollen ankles or legs is accompanied with loss of appetite or weight gain, you need to talk to your doctor.

Lymphedema:

One more cause of swollen ankles could be Lymphedema. Here the movement of fluid in your body gets locked and this causes swelling. You need to look for the best treatment for this condition.

Venous Insufficiency:

There is one more condition that can cause swollen ankles from flying and that is Venous insufficiency. Here, the blood flow through your veins is inadequate. If you suspect it to be the cause, you need to get yourself diagnosed by an expert medical professional and take the best possible treatment.

Injury:

Injury to a leg or ankle earlier can sometimes cause ankle swelling while flying. So, you need to take care of it.

Treatments Of Swollen Ankles From Flying:

Feet and Ankle Massage:

Massage your swollen ankles and feet to relieve the swelling and pain from flying. You can do it yourself or take someone’s help. The massage should be done gently in the direction of the heart. Start by massaging your toe muscles, follow this up by massaging the bottom of your foot, continue by massaging the legs towards the knees, make use of oil if your feet and legs are dry.

Epsom Salt Bath:

Epsom salt bath can be an effective remedy to treat swollen ankles or feet after flying. It reduces the pain and relaxes your ankles and feet. The Epsom salt bath also soothes sore muscles, reduces the swelling by draining excess of fluid and improves circulation of blood.

You need to put a handful of Epsom salt into a tub of warm water and put your feet and lower leg into the tub and soak your legs for 15 to 20 minutes.

Elevate Your Feet:

At the first sign of swelling, you need to elevate your feet so that they are at the level with and above your heart. You can do this by supporting it with a foot pillow while lying down or place the feet on a platform like a stool or the foot bar in front of you. Keep your feet elevated for 30 minutes at a time and repeat 3 times every day.

Apply Ice:

Applying ice can help reduce the swelling of the ankles and feet after flying. It works by constricting blood, which shrinks the swelling of your ankles or legs. Put several ice cubes in a sheet of cloth and apply this to your swollen ankles and leave it on for 15 minutes. You can also give your swollen ankle a cold bath by applying ice cubes in a tub. Dip your swollen feet and keep it on for 2 minutes at a time. Repeating this several times can help you in treating swollen ankles from flying.

Keep Your Feet Moving:

You need to keep your feet moving so as to treat swollen ankles from flying. Movement of your legs will improve the blood circulation that would reduce the swelling. Take a 10-minutes of walk, every 1 hour of sitting in the plane.

Warm Soak:

Warm soak will not only relax your ankles and feet but will also help reduce the swelling. You need to put warm water in a tub and put your feet into the tub and soak them for about 30 minutes.

Seeking Medical Help:

Though you can try the above mentioned treatments for swollen ankles from flying; there are some symptoms you need to note down so as to seek medical help. Make sure you reach your doctor if you become short of breath, have a chest pain after flying. You must also see the doctor if your swelling persists for a longer period after flying, as there may be a serious medical condition like deep vein thrombosis or blood clots. Your doctor may likely require you to run blood tests and perhaps an EKG, for determining the swelling that indicates a blood clot. Your doctor may prescribe you with compression socks or some blood thinning medications.

Ways to Prevent Getting Swollen Ankles From Flying:

Watch Your Diet:

You need to watch your diet before boarding your flight. Do avoid salt as much as possible. Salt can result in fluid retention in your body, which can make your ankles, feet and legs swell even more.

Drink Sufficient Water:

It is important for you to drink sufficient amount of water the day prior and the day of your flying journey, so that you do not start out dehydrated. Carry a bottle of water with you while on the plane.

Walk Around:

You need to try and get up several times during the flight, even if it is just to pace up and down the aisles. This would get your blood flowing. You must do it a few times each hour so as to prevent getting swollen ankles and legs. You must try and ask for an aisle seat if you have a problem of getting swollen ankles and feet from flying. This will make it easy for you to get up and walk around and you will have more space to keep your feet comfortable.

Store Your Bags Overhead:

You need to store your bags overhead and not around your feet because if your feet are fighting for space with your bags, they will be cramped even more into awkward positions that cuts off the supply of blood and causes swollen ankles, feet and legs.

Exercise Your Feet:

Exercising your feet while flying can prevent swollen ankles. You can work the muscles in your feet. Point the toes up and down, side to side so as to get your feet moving. You can also rotate your feet from your ankles that would get your ankles well exercised and prevent from swelling.

Do Not Keep Your Legs Crossed:

You must keep in mind not to cross your legs while you are on the plane. Because of constant sitting for long hours, the blood circulation is already slow; so do not cut it off even more by crossing your legs.

Wear Compression Socks:

Wearing compression socks while flying would help you prevent getting swollen ankles. In fact, doctors recommend wearing compression socks while you are flying. These stockings fit snugly the entire length of your legs and aid keep blood from pooling in your lower extremities. Put on the compression socks on at your home before boarding the flight.

Other Ways To Prevent Swollen Ankles From Flying:

Some other ways to prevent swollen ankles from flying include; avoid caffeinated drinks, alcoholic beverages, and salty snacks before flying as they can exacerbate swelling in your ankles; put on loose fitting clothing and wear comfortable shoes for your flight. Also, make sure not to wear socks with elastic bands that can restrict the flow of blood in your legs and cause swollen ankles and legs. You can also take a baby aspirin, just before boarding so as to support good circulation of blood.

Conclusion:

So, we knew about some of the causes, treatments and preventive measures for swollen ankles from flying. So, if you are about to board a long distance plane, then do prepare your body for the stress of a long plane journey.

NOTE: Talk to your doctor if you have swollen ankles from flying that is too painful and remains swollen for a longer period. This might indicate some underlying medical condition that might require appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 21, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

We'll help you live each day to the healthiest