What causes leg and foot swelling during air travel?

Answer From Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D.

Leg and foot swelling during air travel is common and typically harmless. The most likely culprit is inactivity during a flight.

Sitting with your feet on the floor for a long period causes blood to pool in your leg veins. The position of your legs when you are seated also increases pressure in your leg veins. This contributes to foot swelling by causing fluid to leave the blood and move into the surrounding soft tissues.

To relieve foot swelling during a flight:

  • Wear loosefitting clothing
  • Take a short walk every hour or so
  • Flex and extend your ankles and knees frequently while you're seated
  • Flex your calf muscles
  • Shift your position in your seat as much as possible, being careful to avoid crossing your legs
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Avoid alcohol and sedatives, which could make you too sleepy or unsteady to walk around the cabin

Foot swelling isn't a serious problem if it lasts only a short time. But excessive swelling that persists for several hours after you resume activity may be due to a more serious condition, such as a blood clot in the leg (deep vein thrombosis). If you have swelling in only one leg and also have leg pain, seek prompt medical care.

If you're at increased risk of blood clots — because you recently had major surgery or you take birth control pills, for example — talk with your doctor before flying. He or she may recommend wearing compression stockings during your flight. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a blood-thinning medication to be taken before departure.

Oct. 25, 2019 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. Slide show: 5 smart exercise choices for psoriatic arthritis
  2. A Pain-Free Thumbs Up!
  3. Q&A with a Mayo Clinic physician: Signs your psoriatic arthritis medications may need adjusting
  4. Anaphylaxis
  5. Atrioventricular canal defect
  6. Bee sting
  7. Blood tests for heart disease
  8. Adult congenital heart disease: What patients and families should know
  9. Adult defects
  10. Fact or Fiction? Debunking Exercise & Nutrition Myths for Preventing Heart Disease and Risk Factors
  11. Healthy Heart Numbers
  12. Heart disease in women
  13. Heart Failure
  14. Mayo Clinic offers congenital heart care: Marcus' story
  15. Pulmonary hypertension overview
  16. Pulmonary Hypertension Treatment and Research
  17. Saved from Transplant
  18. Sports Cardiology Program
  19. Valve problems in children with heart disease: What patients and families should know
  20. Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?
  21. Cardiac asthma: What causes it?
  22. Kinser's story
  23. Chelation therapy for heart disease: Does it work?
  24. Chilblains
  25. Complex regional pain syndrome
  26. Congenital heart defects in children
  27. Infographic: Congenital Heart Disease and Lifelong Care
  28. Congenital heart disease in adults
  29. Control your portions, control your weight
  30. Coping with the emotional ups and downs of psoriatic arthritis
  31. Daily aspirin therapy
  32. Dermatitis
  33. Dermatographia
  34. Psoriatic arthritis and diet
  35. Dilated cardiomyopathy
  36. ED Drugs for Pulmonary Hypertension
  37. Heart transplant to treat dilated cardiomyopathy: Elmo's story
  38. Endocarditis
  39. Enlarged heart
  40. Sleep and psoriatic arthritis
  41. External Drive: Charles' Artificial Heart
  42. Factor V Leiden
  43. Fasting diet: Can it improve my heart health?
  44. Flu shots and heart disease
  45. Glomerulonephritis
  46. Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
  47. Grass-fed beef
  48. Hand swelling during exercise: A concern?
  49. Healthy eating: One step at a time
  50. Healthy Heart for Life!
  51. Healthy heart for life: Avoiding heart disease
  52. Heart disease
  53. Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors
  54. Heart failure
  55. Heart failure and sex: Is it safe?
  56. Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease
  57. Heart murmurs
  58. Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
  59. Hemophilia
  60. Hives and angioedema
  61. Holiday Heart
  62. How can I manage health risks related to psoriatic arthritis?
  63. How to determine your psoriatic arthritis triggers
  64. How to find the right psoriatic arthritis support group
  65. IgA nephropathy (Berger's disease)
  66. Surgery for severe psoriatic arthritis
  67. Joint infections
  68. Living better with psoriatic arthritis
  69. Lymphedema
  70. Maintain a healthy weight with psoriatic arthritis
  71. Managing psoriatic arthritis at work
  72. Manage stress to improve psoriatic arthritis symptoms
  73. Managing psoriatic arthritis pain
  74. Menus for heart-healthy eating
  75. Mitral valve stenosis
  76. Mixed connective tissue disease
  77. Nephrotic syndrome
  78. New Test for Preeclampsia
  79. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  80. Omega-3 in fish
  81. Omega-6 fatty acids
  82. Osteochondritis dissecans
  83. Polymorphous light eruption
  84. Polymorphous Light Eruption
  85. Polypill: Does it treat heart disease?
  86. Porphyria
  87. Preeclampsia
  88. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  89. Psoriatic arthritis
  90. Psoriatic arthritis and intimacy: Tips for a better relationship
  91. Psoriatic arthritis: Cold weather skin care
  92. Pulmonary edema
  93. Pulmonary hypertension
  94. Put fish on the menu
  95. Reactive arthritis
  96. Red wine, antioxidants and resveratrol
  97. Robotic or minimally invasive cardiac surgery for adult-adolescent congenital heart disease
  98. Septic arthritis
  99. Coping tips for psoriatic arthritis
  100. Types of dermatitis
  101. Sodium: Smarten up
  102. Heart disease prevention
  103. Stung by a Plant
  104. Sun rash: Causes and prevention
  105. Symptom Checker
  106. Infographic: The blueprints to your heart
  107. Thoracic outlet syndrome
  108. Thrombophlebitis
  109. Thumb arthritis
  110. Thumb Reconstruction
  111. Tricuspid atresia
  112. Turner syndrome
  113. Ultrasound
  114. Urinalysis
  115. Ventricular septal defect
  116. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  117. Warfarin diet
  118. Heart failure action plan
  119. White patch on skin: A cause for concern?
  120. Infographic: Women and Heart Disease
  121. X-ray