Compression stockings may prevent lower leg swelling.
Q. My lower legs tend to swell when I take long plane trips. Would compression stockings help?
A. Compression stockings are elastic, below-the-knee socks that gently squeeze your calves. They can help prevent swelling in the foot, ankle, and lower leg that often occurs during any period of prolonged sitting—not just in planes but also in buses, trains, and cars. Your leg muscles don’t contract, which normally helps push blood back toward the heart. As a result, blood and fluid tend to pool in the lower legs.
The sluggish blood flow can also cause small blood clots to form. In rare cases, one may plug a vein and block blood flow, causing a painful condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If the clot moves to the lungs, it can be fatal. Some studies suggest that wearing compression stockings might help prevent DVT on long airplane flights, though it is not clear if it prevents the big clots that can kill.
Here are two better ways to prevent blood clots: drink plenty of water and exercise your feet and legs in flight. Drinking water helps you stay hydrated and encourages you to get up and walk to the restroom. Flexing your feet up and down while sitting might also help. Many in-flight magazines include suggested exercises.
— Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH
Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter