Is Foot Swelling During Air Travel a Concern?

Foot swelling is often the result of an underlying condition that requires treatment. For example, poor circulation related to diabetes can contribute to foot and ankle swelling, neuropathy, and diabetic ulcers. Likewise, a sprained ankle and lymphedema are two other sources of foot swelling.

But, not all foot swelling warrants a trip to the podiatrist. Some swelling, such as temporary swelling during air travel, isn’t always concerning. In this blog, expert podiatrists Laura Schweger, DPM, and Evan M. Ross, DPM, of Optima Foot and Ankle in Bend, Oregon, explain when swelling is normal and when it can be a sign of a bigger issue.

Swelling is common during air travel

Dependent edema 一 the official name for leg and ankle swelling during air travel 一 is common and typically harmless. The swelling is a combination of inactivity paired with the force of gravity pulling the fluids in your body toward earth.

Sitting with your feet motionless for hours at a time can cause the blood to pool in the veins of your legs, but it isn’t the only source of swelling. Typical mid-flight snacks are very salty. Peanuts, chips, and pretzels can contribute to swelling, especially if you’re sensitive to sodium.

The longer your flight is, the more likely you’re going to feel a little swollen. You can reduce your risk of foot and ankle swelling by staying hydrated, choosing nutrient-dense snacks over the salty options, and staying active.

Although you’re confined to your seat for hours at a time, you can perform many different foot and ankle stretches to keep the blood circulating in your feet and ankles. Also, you should use proper posture and not keep your legs crossed. Furthermore, you should avoid wearing restrictive clothing or tight shoes during your travel.

When foot swelling is a concern

While most foot swelling is temporary and should dissipate shortly after you start walking again, there are a few signs that could indicate that your foot swelling is a cause for concern. If you notice any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:

  • Your swelling doesn’t dissipate within a few hours of leaving the plane
  • One foot is worse than the other
  • Your swelling is accompanied by pain or tenderness
  • Your foot or leg is red and hot

The symptoms above may be related to deep vein thrombosis or a blood clot deep within your muscle. If you’re at risk for blood clots, it’s important to clear your travel plans with a health care provider prior to travel. You may benefit from compression stockings or even blood thinners before you travel by air.

Traveling by air when you have diabetes

Because diabetes can increase your risk of foot swelling and blood clots, it’s important to plan thoroughly before any flight. At Optima Foot and Ankle, we’re on a mission to provide top-notch podiatric care, including diabetic foot care. If you have diabetes and are planning on flying, schedule your annual foot exam before your trip.

This ensures that any issues, such as ingrown nails or wounds, are taken care of before you leave. During your exam, we can also provide you with specific guidance on keeping your feet as healthy as possible while you fly.

If you have questions about foot swelling or would like to schedule an exam, call 541-383-3668 or book an appointment online with Optima Foot and Ankle today.

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