LONG FLIGHT? DON’T RISK GETTING BLOOD CLOTS
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You don’t have to be a frequent flier to know that while flying for more than 4 hours you risk developing blood clots.  Long flights in ‘limited-legroom’ airline seats lend itself to your legs becoming stiff, sore, anxious and cramp up.  This may not cause long-term consequences for many but, for some it can be life-threatening if blood clots form.
 

Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a condition in which blood clots form in the body's deep veins, especially in those of the legs. In some cases, DVT can lead to a pulmonary embolism, or PE, [and sudden death] if a blood clot breaks off and gets lodged in a lung.
 

Dehydration from the dry air of a plane cabin can cause the blood to thicken. Combine that with inactivity and low cabin pressure you have a formula for blood clotting in the legs.
 

Those pre-disposed to clotting include:
 

  • Individuals with cancer, or those who have chronic heart or respiratory failure

  • People with a predisposition to clotting, obesity or varicose veins

  • People who have recently had major surgery, been bed ridden or endured a leg injury

  • Women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth; women who take contraceptives or those undergoing hormone replacement therapy

  • People who are 50 years and older are at increased risk

  • Smokers

 

Note: If you're at high-risk for clotting, your doctor can prescribe medication.
 

While in a plane, whether in First class or Economy class, moving about frequently, exercising and doing stretches in [and out] of your seat can get the blood moving thus helping in preventing these tragedies.

 

Try to get up and walk around every 15 to 30 minutes on long flights. Combined this with these exercises and stretching suggestions below will promote circulation and give you that ‘ahh’ feeling as you release tension and soothe your muscles and joints.

 

Stretches in your Seat

 

It’s important to perform these movements gently to avoid any pain, strain or injury.  When you’re stretching listen to your body and be mindful of how you feel as you move. You should never experience more than mild discomfort during a stretch. If you’re struggling or bouncing as you hold the stretch, you may be pushing yourself too far—ease back a bit.  Relax the muscle group you’re working on and breathe into the stretch, extending further with each exhalation, if possible.

 

Hamstring Stretch:  When our hamstrings are tight, it can lead to discomfort in our knees, hips and spine, so it’s important to keep them loose.
 

Move to the front edge of your seat. Place your right foot forward, stretching your leg out nice and long. Your left foot should remain flat on the ground with your knee bent.

 

With your spine straight and your left hand on your left thigh, reach for your right toes with your right hand, feeling your spine elongate and the stretch extend through the backside of your leg. If you can’t touch your toes, rest your hand on your shin or thigh.  Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds as you inhale and exhale. Slowly come back up and repeat on the other side.
 

Hip Stretches: Your hip muscles can easily tighten, causing limited flexibility. Stretching this area reduces your risk of injury while playing sports, working out or engaging in other daily activities.
 

Sitting in your chair, cross your right ankle just above your left knee.

Use your right hand to gently press your right knee, feeling the stretch through the hip.  Maintaining this position, lean forward while keeping a flat spine and relaxed shoulders. Inhale and exhale as you feel your body melt deeper into the stretch.

Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then slowly sit up straight and place your right foot back on the ground. Repeat on the other side.

 

Neck Stretch: It’s common for the upper trapezius muscle (which extends from the base of your skull to your collarbone) to get tight. This stretch can help alleviate that tension by sitting up straight in your chair, bend your head toward your right shoulder. Try to avoid leaning your whole body by keeping your shoulders level.

 

Reaching up and over, place your right hand on the left side of your head and gently apply pressure, feeling the stretch through your neck and down your left shoulder. 

Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, making sure to breathe throughout the stretch.  Release your hand and slowly bring your head back to center. Repeat on the other side.
 

Shoulder Stretch: Carrying heavy bags, leaning in toward computer monitors or sitting in cramped seats lead us to round our shoulders forward, which encourages poor posture and muscle strain. To help this, try a few shoulder rolls.
 

Inhale and simultaneously raise your shoulders up to your ears.  Roll them back and exhale as you lower them down, letting your shoulder blades slide down your back. Avoid rolling your shoulders forward, concentrating on the up-back-down motion. Your chest should feel open and proud.  Repeat this motion for 20 to 30 seconds. When you’re finished go throughout your flight and your day by being mindful of the settled posture of your shoulders.

 

Spine Stretches:  Sitting all day can make your body feel compressed. Stretching and elongating your spine keeps the muscles and tissues limber while helping you feel taller. This stretch involves rotation through the spine.

 

Sitting with both feet on the ground, place your left hand on your left knee and your right hand behind you on the seat. Inhale and twist your torso to the right, keeping your hips forward and your shoulders down. Turn your head as if you’re looking for something behind you.  Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds. Feel your spine get taller, then exhale and unwind back to the front. Repeat on the other side.
 

Exercises in Your Seat

Ankle Circles: Raise your feet off the floor. Point your toes and move them around in a circle, moving one foot clockwise and the other counter clockwise.
 

Foot lifts: Start with your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your heels on the floor, lift your toes up as high as they can go. Return both feet flat on the floor, then keeping your toes on the floor, lift your heels up as high as you can. Continue to alternate back and forth.
 

Knee lifts: Bend one knee and raise that leg off the seat. Contract the thigh muscles. Lower the leg and switch sides. Alternate back and forth for 20 to 30 repetitions.

 

Knee-to-chest: Bend forward slightly. Interlace your hands around the top of your shin, just below your knee. Pull the knee into your chest. Hold the position for 15 seconds, then slowly lower the leg back down. Switch sides. Repeat several times.

 

Standing Exercises
 

When you can move safely around the cabin, get up and walk around. If that’s discouraged, you can often stand in the aisle by your seat or in the areas near the bathrooms. Take these opportunities to do some standing exercises to get your blood circulating.

Calf raises: Hold onto a seat back or other sturdy object for support. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and slowly raise up onto your toes. Hold for a second or two, then slowly lower down. Repeat 10 to 20 times.

 

March in place: Bend one knee, bringing it up as high as you can. Return to standing and switch sides. Repeat 10 to 20 times.

 

Quadriceps stretch: Bend one knee bringing the foot up toward your butt. Keep your knees in line and take hold of the ankle of your lifted foot with the same-side hand. Pull the foot into your butt. Hold for 15 seconds, Release and switch sides.

 

Forward fold: Separate your feet and fold forward at your hips. Keep a slight bend in your knees. Reach your fingers to your shins or the floor. Hold for 15 seconds. Slowly roll up to standing vertebra by vertebra to avoid light-headedness.

 

Signs & Symptoms

In some cases, DVT may not present symptoms, while others may experience:

  • swelling in the foot, ankle, or leg, usually only on one side

  • cramping pain, which typically begins in the calf

  • severe, unexplained pain in the foot or ankle

  • a patch of skin that feels warmer to the touch than skin surrounding it

  • a patch of skin that turns pale, or turns a reddish or bluish color

Signs of a PE may include:

  • dizziness

  • sweating

  • chest pain that becomes worse after coughing or deep inhales

  • rapid breathing

  • coughing up blood

  • rapid heart rate

Be aware that symptoms of DVT and PE may not occur for several days and up to two weeks after travel.

There are simple steps you can take to minimize your risk depending on your health history. Knowing the signs and symptoms of DVT and PE and taking steps to reduce your risk are the best ways to fly safely.

We recommend that you consult your physician prior to embarking on any major travel not only for the above risks but for proper vaccines and medical advice. See the following links for more information..

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/dvt

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