How to prevent it and get rid of it
You can avoid swollen ankles after flying with the right preparation — Photo courtesy of E+ / praetorianphoto
One of the downsides of air travel, especially long-haul flights, is the possibility of developing swollen feet and ankles. While this is fairly common and usually temporary, no one wants to arrive at their destination looking like their lower legs and feet are pumped up.
The good news is that you can take steps before, during and after your flight that could allow you to hit the ground after the wheels – and your feet – touch down.
Don’t underestimate the Boy Scout motto of being prepared. There are steps you can take before you start to minimize the risk of swollen feet and ankles.
- Hydrate! It’s very easy, but I always find it a challenge as I don’t want to constantly leave my seat to go to the bathroom. However, the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences, so make sure to drink plenty of water before (and during) your flight.
- Choose the right clothes and shoes. Ideally, your clothing should be loose and comfortable, and lace-up shoes will allow you to smooth out swelling. In addition, doctors often recommend putting on a pair of tight-fitting compression stockings. Although they feel tight at first, these socks improve blood flow to your lower extremities. This not only prevents swelling but also minimizes the risk of blood clots that can form during the flight. The good news: There are a lot of really cute compression stockings on the market today.
- Avoid alcohol. Much to the dismay of travelers looking to get into vacation mode as soon as possible, it’s best to avoid alcohol as it can contribute to dehydration and puffiness. Turn off party mode until after arrival.
- Take a baby aspirin. If you’re particularly concerned about swelling and aren’t taking blood thinners or other problematic medications, ask your doctor if it’s safe to take a baby aspirin before boarding, which can improve circulation.
Actions during flight
While preparation is important, making smart in-flight decisions also helps reduce swelling.
- move your body Resist the urge to stay in your seat for the duration of your flight. While it can be easy to get lost in movies, books, or a deep sleep, walking down the aisle a few times after the pilot has allowed passengers to settle into the cabin will make your feet and ankles feel a lot better to move.
- Stretch. Remove any personal items from the seat in front of you so you can wiggle and stretch your feet and toes every now and then throughout the flight. If there is space near the aft galley while you walk, you can do simple stretches that will help get your blood flowing to other parts of your body as well.
- Drink more water and less alcohol and caffeine. Again water = good for hydration. Alcohol and caffeine = bad for hydration.
- Eat sensibly. Think of the money you could save by not buying or bringing on board groceries that leave you bloated and uncomfortable. Eat lighter, smaller meals or snacks and avoid salty foods, which is very important to avoid swelling.
Sometimes, no matter how many proactive steps you take, your feet and ankles swell and walking can be uncomfortable upon arrival. If this is the case, you should consider the following measures.
- Elevate your feet. If you feel uncomfortable, take a seat at the arrival gate where you can put your feet up. This improves blood circulation faster. Not only that, you also spend less time waiting in baggage claim for your bags.
- Soak your feet or take a dip when you arrive at your accommodation. Just as a hot tub or whirlpool increases blood flow, a hot bath can have the same effect. Bonus if you can add Epsom salt.
- Go for a walk or exercise. A surefire way to increase circulation is to go for a walk or a visit to the gym. Not only could you recover faster, but you could also burn calories before indulging in a few extra treats along the way.
When to seek medical help
Excessive swelling and pain beyond normal discomfort (or other symptoms like difficulty breathing) can indicate more serious problems. If the swelling doesn’t go down within a few hours or you’re concerned, see a doctor as soon as possible.