Protect Your Feet from Blood Clots While Flying

Each week we invite a respected member of the travel community (or medical community in this case) to bring their experiences, advice and tips to readers. This week we welcome Bob Thompson, CPed, Executive Director of the Institute for Preventive Foot Health.

Flying these days is not always pleasant. Flights can be crowded and there’s not much room to move around. For most people we’re talking about a minor inconvenience, but for some it can amount to a serious health threat.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition in which a blood clot forms in the leg, is a risk from long periods of inactivity, such as long airline flights. According to the American Heart Association, one out of 1,000 Americans develops DVT each year.

DVT is a dangerous condition, and can be life-threatening if the blood clot moves to the lung (called a “pulmonary embolism”). To help avoid DVT, do the following aboard the plane:

  • Make sure you stand up and move around the cabin as often as possible, especially on a flight that lasts for three hours or more.
  • While seated, flex your feet, move your legs up and down, curl or press your toes toward the floor. These movements help work the muscles, which aids blood flow.
  • Do not sit with your legs crossed, which decreases blood flow and increases the chance of DVT.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. The air in airplanes is generally very dry, and less fluid in the body results in less vigorous blood flow.
  • IPFH suggests you wear only properly selected and fitted, padded socks. Also, wear shoes with non-slip outsoles and any inserts or orthotics prescribed by a foot health professional, along with padded socks, for an integrated approach to foot health. Peer-reviewed, published studies have shown that wearing clinically tested padded socks can help prevent injuries to the skin/soft tissue of the foot.

When on an extended flight, it is not unusual for the feet to swell as a result of blood pooling in the feet and/or legs. To relieve discomfort, open shoelaces or remove your shoes. Padded socks can also offer some protection if you remove your shoes and walk around the cabin.

Talk with your doctor before flying if you have any circulatory condition such as diabetes or heart disease that might increase your risk for DVT or other conditions related to reduced blood flow. Ask whether wearing compression hosiery can help reduce your risk.

After a flight, consult a physician if you notice any of these symptoms: Swelling, warmth, or tenderness in the muscles of your leg; pain in your leg that gets worse when you stand or walk (especially if accompanied by swelling or redness in the leg).


Bob Thompson is a nationally-recognized speaker on the topic of preventive foot health. As Executive Director of IPFH since March 2008, Thompson has taken the Institute’s message concerning preventive foot health awareness, foot protection and foot soft tissue injury prevention to audiences nationwide.

Showing 1 Comment

  1. Bonnie_steenburgh 1:59 PM on May 28th, 2012 |

    i have an avulsion ankle fracture. ankle swells can i fly for 7 hrs