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. Balance your life to make things easier with psoriatic arthritis
  7. Bee sting
  8. Blood tests for heart disease
  9. Adult congenital heart disease: What patients and families should know
  10. Adult defects
  11. Fact or Fiction? Debunking Exercise & Nutrition Myths for Preventing Heart Disease and Risk Factors
  12. Healthy Heart Numbers
  13. Heart disease in women
  14. Heart Failure
  15. Mayo Clinic offers congenital heart care: Marcus' story
  16. Pulmonary hypertension overview
  17. Pulmonary Hypertension Treatment and Research
  18. Saved from Transplant
  19. Sports Cardiology Program
  20. Valve problems in children with heart disease: What patients and families should know
  21. Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?
  22. Cardiac asthma: What causes it?
  23. Kinser's story
  24. Chelation therapy for heart disease: Does it work?
  25. Chilblains
  26. Complex regional pain syndrome
  27. Congenital heart defects in children
  28. Infographic: Congenital Heart Disease and Lifelong Care
  29. Congenital heart disease in adults
  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. Endocarditis
  38. Enlarged heart
  39. Sleep and psoriatic arthritis
  40. External Drive: Charles' Artificial Heart
  41. Factor V Leiden
  42. Fasting diet: Can it improve my heart health?
  43. Flu shots and heart disease
  44. Glomerulonephritis
  45. Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
  46. Grass-fed beef
  47. Hand swelling during exercise: A concern?
  48. Healthy eating: One step at a time
  49. Healthy Heart for Life!
  50. Healthy heart for life: Avoiding heart disease
  51. Heart disease
  52. Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors
  53. Heart failure
  54. Heart failure and sex: Is it safe?
  55. Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease
  56. Heart murmurs
  57. Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
  58. Hemophilia
  59. Hives and angioedema
  60. Holiday Heart
  61. How can I manage health risks related to psoriatic arthritis?
  62. How to determine your psoriatic arthritis triggers
  63. How to find the right psoriatic arthritis support group
  64. IgA nephropathy (Berger's disease)
  65. Surgery for severe psoriatic arthritis
  66. Living better with psoriatic arthritis
  67. Lymphedema
  68. Maintain a healthy weight with psoriatic arthritis
  69. Managing psoriatic arthritis at work
  70. Manage stress to improve psoriatic arthritis symptoms
  71. Managing chronic pain when you have psoriatic arthritis
  72. Managing psoriatic arthritis pain
  73. Menus for heart-healthy eating
  74. Mitral valve stenosis
  75. Mixed connective tissue disease
  76. Nephrotic syndrome
  77. New Test for Preeclampsia
  78. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  79. Omega-3 in fish
  80. Omega-6 fatty acids
  81. Osteochondritis dissecans
  82. Polymorphous light eruption
  83. Polymorphous Light Eruption
  84. Polypill: Does it treat heart disease?
  85. Porphyria
  86. Preeclampsia
  87. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  88. Psoriatic arthritis
  89. Psoriatic arthritis and intimacy: Tips for a better relationship
  90. Psoriatic arthritis: Cold weather skin care
  91. Psoriatic arthritis: How can occupational therapy help?
  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. Heart disease prevention
  102. Stung by a Plant
  103. Sun rash: Causes and prevention
  104. Symptom Checker
  105. Thoracic outlet syndrome
  106. Thrombophlebitis
  107. Thumb arthritis
  108. Thumb Reconstruction
  109. Tricuspid atresia
  110. Turner syndrome
  111. Ultrasound
  112. Urinalysis
  113. Ventricular septal defect (VSD)
  114. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  115. Warfarin diet
  116. Heart failure action plan
  117. White patch on skin: A cause for concern?
  118. Infographic: Women and Heart Disease
  119. X-ray