You can avoid swollen ankles after flying with proper preparationsYou can avoid swollen ankles after flying with proper preparations — Photo courtesy of E+ / praetorianphoto

One of the downsides of air travel, particularly long-haul flights, is the possibility of developing swollen feet and ankles. While this is fairly common and usually temporary, no one wants to arrive at their destination looking like their lower legs and feet have been inflated.

The good news is that there are actions you can take before, during and after your flight that could allow you to hit the ground running after the wheels – and your feet – touch down.

Pre-flight prep

Don’t underestimate the Scouts’ motto of being prepared. There are actions you can take before takeoff to minimize the chance of swollen feet and ankles.

Hydrate! This is very straightforward, yet I always find it a challenge as I don’t want to leave my seat repeatedly to use the restroom. However, the advantages far outweigh the inconvenience, so drink plenty of water prior to (and during) your flight.
Choose the right clothes and shoes. Ideally, your clothes should be loose and comfortable, and tie-up shoes allow you to accommodate any swelling. Additionally, doctors often recommend donning a pair of snugly-fitting compression socks. Though they may feel tight initially, these socks improve blood circulation in your lower extremities. Not only does that help prevent swelling, but it also minimizes the chance of blood clots that can develop during flight. The good news: there are plenty of really cute compression socks on the market these days.
Avoid alcohol. Much to the dismay of travelers who want to switch to vacation mode as early as possible, it’s best to avoid alcohol, as it can contribute to dehydration and impact swelling. Put party mode on hold until after arrival.
Take a baby aspirin. If you’re extra concerned about swelling and you aren’t taking blood thinners or other problematic medications, ask your doctor if it’s safe to take a baby aspirin prior to boarding, which can improve circulation.

In-flight actions

While preparation is important, making smart choices in-flight also helps mitigate swelling.

Move your body. Resist the urge to stay in your seat for the duration of your flight. While it may be easy to get lost in movies, books or a deep sleep, your feet and ankles will feel much better if you walk the aisle a few times once the pilot has cleared passengers to move about the cabin.
Stretch. Clear away any personal items from the seat in front of you, so you can wiggle and stretch your feet and toes occasionally throughout the flight. If there’s space near the back galley while you’re up for a walk, you can do basic stretches that will help keep your blood flowing to other parts of the body too.
Drink more water and less alcohol and caffeine. Again, water = good for hydration. Alcohol and caffeine = bad for hydration.
Dine sensibly. Think of the money you could save by not purchasing or bringing aboard foods that will make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. Eat lighter, smaller meals or snacks and – most importantly to avoid swelling – avoid salty foods.

Post-flight recovery

Sometimes, no matter how many proactive steps you take, your feet and ankles may swell, and walking may be uncomfortable upon arrival. If so, here are some actions to consider.

Elevate your feet. If you’re uncomfortable, grab a seat at the arrival gate where you can elevate your feet. This will improve blood flow more quickly. Not only that, but it’s less time you’ll have to stand around waiting for your luggage at baggage claim.
Soak your feet or take a bath when you arrive at your accommodations. Just as a hot tub or jacuzzi increases blood flow, a hot bath can have the same effect. Bonus if you can add Epsom salts.
Take a walk or exercise. A surefire way to increase blood flow is to take a walk or hit the gym. Not only could you recover more quickly, but you’ll also burn calories before you indulge in a few extra treats on the road.

When to seek medical help

Excessive swelling and pain beyond normal discomfort (or other symptoms such as trouble breathing) could indicate more serious issues. If the swelling does not subside in a few hours or you’re concerned, consult a medical professional as soon as possible.

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