Compression Socks for Travel: How to Avoid Swelling and Leg Fatigue on Long Flights

plane soaring the sky and clouds

compressions socks for flying can help you feel more comfortable on long travel days (Source: Shutterstock)

Travel is supposed to be exciting and fun. Even if you are going on a business trip, there are perks to seeing a new part of the world. But there is nothing worse than getting to your destination and feeling like your legs, ankles, and feet are swollen like balloons. 

Sadly, it happens to everyone. Some people may be more prone to it than others. The good news is that no matter how affected we are by leg swelling, there is a number of things we can do to avoid and combat it. 

Hint: Compression socks for travel and long flights are a great place to start. 

Why Do Our Legs Swell On Airplanes?

The simple answer is inactivity—blood pools in our legs when we sit on long flights, increasing the swelling in that area. More specifically, the seated position increases the pressure of blood in your veins, which causes them to swell. Blood circulation slows, and discomfort increases. But we don’t have to sit with that. Figuratively and literally. 

What is considered a long flight? 

Trick question! You can always prioritize your leg health on any flight since the pressure feels more significant after any time in the air. While longer flights are generally three hours or more, it’s possible to feel aches in your legs even just one hour into the air. 

Even if you feel that you have particularly good blood flow and circulation, flights that are more than four hours can be difficult for anyone. That’s why many are shocked to see just how swollen their ankles are after a flight from the U.S. to Australia. 

So, let’s work on that. 

Tips to Combat Leg Swelling

man putting on compression socks

Compression socks for flying can decrease swelling (Source: Shutterstock)

There are a number of approaches that help combat leg swelling when you are stranded on a long flight. From compression to hydration or a combination method, it never hurts to try! 

Compression Socks For Travel

Compression socks are one of the best solutions when it comes to long flights. While they have increased in popularity, some people mistake compression socks for only medical use. The great news is that compression socks are both for medical and recreational use, such as exercise and travel. 

Compression socks work to move circulation throughout the legs. It’s most pressurized towards the ankle and feet and slowly releases its pressure as it climbs toward the knee. This benefit is twofold. The first is that the compression keeps the veins from enlarging. The second is that the pressure pushes the blood from the bottom of the feet upward toward the heart to continue healthy circulation. 

There are a few different types and grades (pressure levels) that you can work with. The best approach to finding your right fit is to consult your medical provider before boarding the plane. 

Getting Up and Moving Around 

It may seem simple, but getting up and walking around on the plane when it is safe to do so is vital to blood flow. On long flights, it’s recommended that you get up at least once but preferably twice to stretch and regain connection and feeling with your legs and body.

If, for some reason, you are on a bumpy flight and don’t see much time out of your seat, aim to do ankle circles and move your legs as much as you can from time to time. Something is better than nothing. Just consider the plane your new gym

Staying Hydrated

Staying hydrated is the answer to everything. But when it comes to swelling, it can be a big help. For starters, being hydrated means that you have less chance of cramping on the plane. It’s common to experience foot or calf cramps during long flights. When you combine drinking enough water with stretching, your chances go significantly down. 

Keep Them Elevated

If you are blessed to have an empty seat next to you, take advantage of it. Keeping your feet elevated helps move blood flow to and from the heart easier when it’s not an uphill battle. Even changing positions in your seat can help prevent blood clots from forming. 

Trying a Few Pairs of Compression Socks Out

Compression socks are not always a one-size-fits-all, even if the sock quite literally says that. Finding the right amount of pressure and a sock that fits comfortably is important. Sitting through an uncomfortable fit for long periods of time may be just as bad or worse than sitting in your seat for the entire time. 

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with the options, a medical provider is the best person to ask. They can suggest the appropriate pressure levels based on your activity levels and medical history.