Flying on two feet: airline travel foot health

If you’re a snowbird, you’ll already know that London International Airport is our local escape route to the warmth and sunshine of the Dominican Republic, Florida, Mexico, and Cuba!

However, the pandemic hit the airline industry hard. The 2022 report for London International Airport showed that passenger numbers were only at 35% of pre-pandemic passenger volumes.

One of the results is that now airlines are trying to get more passengers on each flight, and leg room is at a premium. (And you pay for it too!) Also, with seat back entertainment systems, there is less and less room (or incentive) to move about during a flight.

DVT risks for medium and long haul flights

Lack of movement during a flight can have serious consequences for those on medium (between 3 and 6 hours) and long-haul flights (6-12 hours). If you sit in the same position for an extended length of time, such as a 4 hour medium-haul flight from London YXU to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, you are more at risk of developing DVT (deep vein thrombosis).

DVT (deep vein thrombosis) occurs when blood flows too slowly through your veins, forming clots that block veins, usually in your legs. It’s not limited to travel either: around 15% of the population suffers from this in everyday life too, where it’s known as chronic venous insufficiency.

Assessing your risk of DVT

You have a higher risk factor for DVT on a long-haul flight (8 hours or more) if you fall into certain group such as:

  • Pregnant women
  • Cancer patients
  • Stroke patients
  • Heart disease patient
  • Have recently had surgery in the pelvic region or in your legs
  • The obese
  • Those taking HRT
  • Are aged over 40


Reduce your risk – wear special socks!

Your age is the highest risk factor for developing venous thrombosis, as your deep venous valves change with age, and thicken. The good news is that there are simple and easy ways to significantly reduce your risk of DVT, including wearing flight socks, also known as compression stockings.

Tight-fitting flight socks apply gentle and even pressure to your lower legs and ankles and help your blood flow. Studies have show that wearing compression stockings on flights longer than four hours significantly reduces the risk of DVT and prevents swollen legs (oedema).

Do I really need travel socks for a 3-4 hour flight?

We consider it to be a good idea as whilst the flight itself may be under four hours, you’ll spend much more time sitting on the plane than that, especially before takeoff and if you can’t disembark quickly at your destination. Then there’s the time spent sitting in the car driving to the airport, sitting waiting at the gate, possible flight delays, and any lengthy coach transfer at the other end.

Wearing non-medical travel socks can also help combat leg fatigue. As an article at CNN explains:

“To help with leg fatigue … nonmedical support socks encourage circulation and can be worn on the plane and off. A key benefit is that you can stay more active on your feet as a tourist when you arrive at your destination.”

Compression stockings and flight socks

It can be confusing to know which class of compression stocking product you require, especially when commercially sold flight socks have varying pressure ratings. At Hunt Footcare, we fit and dispense compression stockings that offer high levels of effectiveness and comfort way above any ‘off the shelf’ flight sock products. For full details see our article: “Support when you need it: compression socks and stockings”.

Our travel sock and compression stocking fitting service

The fit of your compression socks is very important, according to a flight nurse quoted in a Conde Naste Traveller article

“Compression socks should be high quality; comfortable to wear; do not bunch up, which can cause blood flow restriction; or slide down, which indicates that they are too loose.”

That’s why at Hunt Footcare, we carefully measure your legs to ensure the best fit, before selecting the right product for you. Unlike commercial flight socks that usually come in a choice of dull beige or unflattering black, our range of compression stockings come in a range of textures and colours. This makes them suitable for the business traveller as well as leisure travellers, so the only person who will know you are wearing compression socks on your flight is – you!

Call us for your personal compression stocking / flight stocking fitting at least a week before your flight, and help protect yourself from DVT.


Other ways to reduce your DVT risk on longer journeys

There are three key ways to reduce your risk of DVT on a flight:

  • Movement: get up and walk around as often as you can.
  • Hydration: drink plenty of water so you are properly hydrated, and avoid alcohol.
  • Legroom: stow your luggage overhead or check your luggage, so you have as much wriggle room around your feet as possible.

Simple exercises, such as rolling your ankles around in circles, and raising your heels while keeping your toes on the ground, will help your circulation. You can also take a tennis ball or golf ball, and roll this around on the soles of your feet, which again help stimulate circulation.

Just to say, DVT is not just a risk on flights – you should try to reduce your risk on long train or car journeys too. To book your flight sock fitting, or to discuss any foot-related issues, just call your local Hunt Footcare clinic.

Not just for flying

Lighter 15-20mmHg compression socks are good for everyday wear for people who spend a long time on their feet on hard surfaces, such as machinists, auto mechanics, shop workers, nurses, and hair stylists.

They are also good for runners and cyclists, and anyone whose feet tend to swell a little during the day. Regular wearing of compression socks can help reduce to appearance of varicose veins and reduce gravitational edema (swelling) if you sit down a lot at work.

IMPORTANT: If you have prolonged, painful or unexplained swelling in your legs and ankles, consult your physician as soon as possible, as there may be underlying medical reasons that need addressing.

Need help with compression stockings for medical conditions?

We can help with expert fitting and advice. Simply contact your nearest Hunt Footcare clinic to make an appointment.

Published On: February 27, 2024