Do Your "Runners Legs" Tend to Swell on Planes?

Jannine Myers

Here’s a post for the traveling runner. A couple of years ago I noticed that my ankles and calves started to swell during long flights, so much so that the swelling would sometimes warrant a visit to the clinic and/or massage therapist a day or two after landing. Feeling a little nervous about these recent bouts of travel-induced swelling, I decided to search the internet for tips on how to prevent this from happening on future flights. The following brief article offered some great information and advice:

Runners could be more prone to leg blood clots on planes

Posted Nov 21 2008 10:04am
Crowded plane
The latest thinking goes like this:

“Runners’ bodies adapt to running by making their leg vascular system more efficient: larger veins and arteries. So if you sit for a long time and are scrunched in an airplane seat, the blood can pool in your larger leg veins, and clot. That—coupled with the edge of the seat’s pushing on the back of your knee, preventing or slowing venous return—could be all you need to set up a clot.”

This according to Dr. Lewis G. Maharam one of the world’s premier running physician. He is also medical director of the New York Road Runners, ING New York City Marathon.

So what can you do to prevent blood clots on long airplane flight?
Dr. Maharam has some advice:
On flights of three hours or more:

  • Do not sit in one position for more than an hour. Get up and walk every so often.
  • Do calf stretches once an hour, standing and leaning against a bathroom wall.
  • Stay well hydrated. As I always say, check your urine color: you want lemonade color; not clear, and not brown like iced tea.
  • Avoid crossing your legs at the knees and ankles.
  • Wear graduated-compression stockings (the so-called TED stocking you can buy at your local pharmacy).
  • If your doctor permits, take one baby aspirin  four to six hours before your flight. It mildly prevents clotting as it does for heart patients.

FYI: I ordered a pair of these stockings from Amazon, and within just a few hours of traveling from Naha to Narita, my legs had ballooned! I had to rush to the bathroom at Narita airport and pull them off. I then spent the next half hour or so walking around the terminal to get my blood re-circulating, and then a further half hour massaging my calves and lying on the floor with my feet up on a chair. Anna suggested that the stockings may have been a size too small, but I had purchased a size larger than usual, to err on the side of caution. Maybe they were still the wrong size, but I won’t be trying these again.

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