Everyone who has travelled long-distance by train or plane knows that typical feeling of swollen, heavy legs when you arrive at your destination. Particularly with long-haul flying, swollen legs are a common complaint, and passengers are encouraged to exercise their legs to prevent this as well as more serious issues, such as blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. There are a number of steps that travellers can take to look after their leg health, including exercise, compression stockings, and good diet.
What Are the Health Risks While Travelling?
When you sit for long periods of time, such as on a train, bus or airplane, particularly in airplanes with changing cabin pressure, your circulation slows down. Your legs are inactive, and in many cases can be in one position (often cramped) for long periods of time. This puts your veins at risk of problems, particularly those related to your veins.
Veins have small valves inside them that help to push blood back towards the heart from the extremities. Varicose veins, thread veins and blood clots can form in any part of your body, but due to the increased pressure on your lower extremities, they are more likely to form in your legs. The small valves in each vein are fighting against gravity, as well as thicker blood due to slowed circulation and blood pooling. If you have any other risk factors, such as being overweight, elderly, or pregnant, your veins may already be under extra stress.
Most people think of varicose veins and thread veins as a cosmetic issue, as they appear ugly and are highly visible through the skin of the legs. However, the main risk is that these can more easily develop into blood clots and deep vein thrombosis, which result in a heart attack or stroke. As a result, travellers should take steps to protect the health of their legs while in transit.
What Can Travellers Do?
First, travellers can make sure to stand up and walk around whenever possible, especially on long-haul flights. Stretch your legs and perform simple exercises like heel raises, small lunges, or heel-toe rolls. This can help to get the circulation in your legs going, stopping blood from pooling and clots from forming as a result. If you can take a larger break, make sure that you get some moderate exercise such as jogging or swimming, so that you can keep your cardiovascular system (including your leg veins) healthy and active. Focus on exercises that involve the calf muscles, or are general aerobic exercises to get your heart pumping hard.
Next, be sure to drink lots of water, as dehydration can thicken the blood and make it harder for the valves in your veins to function. Eat a healthy diet, and avoid high-sodium foods, even though it may be tempting to let loose while on holiday.
Occasionally, you should go for a lymphatic drainage massage to relieve any swelling that may have occurred during your travels. Standing around followed by sitting for long periods of time puts pressure on your legs, leading to excess fluid build-up. Massage helps to move this fluid into areas of lower pressure, relieving swelling and muscle ache.
Finally, consider wearing compression stockings while on the airplane, as they can help to support healthy veins. Compression stockings are tighter at the bottom and looser at the top, which creates upwards pressure from your ankles to thighs. This can help to counteract the extra downwards pressure that acts on your legs and makes it harder for the valves in your leg veins to function. Compression stockings are available from pharmacies or department stores, with higher-compression stockings available from your doctor if necessary.
If you have already started developing varicose veins or thread veins, look into treatment options before you begin your trip. Varicose and thread vein removal is a simple process, with most surgeries these days performed on an outpatient basis. Getting any risky veins sealed and removed before you travel can stop these veins from developing into something more sinister.
Taking a long trip doesn’t have to be a risk to your legs, with numerous approaches that you can take to keep them healthy. Be aware of the risks of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis while travelling, and take steps to prevent them from developing.