While summer is a popular time to travel, this doesn’t mean travel time ends when summer is over. For many of us, business travel may pick up and for others we may take advantage of off-peak travel costs available over the coming months. Either way, as you plan your itinerary, think about making a pair of compression socks part of your travel gear.
Why? With all the excitement travel can bring, there are certain health issues you should be aware of when you are on your trip. Sitting for long periods of time, especially on long-haul flights, can cause swelling in the lower legs and potential blood clots. Using compression socks, also known as compression stockings, may help alleviate this problem.
What’s Happening to My Legs?
Travelers are often subjected to remaining in one position for extended periods of time. During these periods of inactivity, your legs can swell because your calf muscle, which functions as a pump, doesn’t get to function the same way as when we walk. The calf is designed to squeeze the low-pressure circulatory tubes in your legs when it contracts during walking. This pumping function is primarily responsible for maintaining fluid balance in the lower legs.
There are other factors affecting our health as well with travel, especially on airplanes, which involves changes in air pressure and exposure to foods higher in sodium which together can worsen swelling of the legs.
Should I Only Wear Compression Socks When Flying?
For those who are at increased risk of blood clots, also called DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis, it is recommended to wear these types of socks. Although DVT is most often linked to air travel, it can be a risk on long car or train rides as well.
You’ll find compression stockings offer benefits to most travelers. Through their compression they improve the natural calf muscle pump and improve venous return from the lower extremities to the heart. The use of compression stockings should not substitute the need to stay well hydrated and to stretch your legs during long flights. The combination of all of these will help reduce the risk of venous thrombosis.
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According to Dr. Levison, “There is no ‘hard and fast’ rule for wearing compression, however in my opinion there is very little risk to doing so. I wear them daily as a surgeon, as I am standing in one place for extended periods.”
“The only people who should not wear compression stockings,” says Dr. Ombrellino, “are those with severe peripheral artery disease.” But if you are unsure, check with one of our doctors at the Vein Institute of NJ.
Do I Need a Prescription for Compression Socks?
Compression socks/stockings do not require a prescription; however, a surgical supply shop or pharmacy will want to know what degree of compression is being requested. Compression socks/stockings are designed with predetermined graded pressure (15/20mmHg, 20-30mmHg, 30-40mmHg.) Those without a formal diagnosis of a pathologic problem causing swelling of the legs should typically start with the lighter pair of compression (15-20mmHg) as they will be easier to put on. The higher-pressure garments are typically designed for those with more advanced symptoms related to swelling.
Be sure to look carefully at the size charts. “These are not one-size-fits-all garments,” warns Dr. Ombrellino. “Always buy your first pair from a location or site [that] either measures the legs properly or gives detailed instructions for proper measuring of the correct size.”
“Compression socks/stockings are made in a variety of configurations (calf-high, low-thigh, high-thigh, pantyhose, open and closed toe),” adds Dr. Levison. “In my opinion calf-high are the easiest to put on and more extensive garments are usually not required and may even be more uncomfortable for travel. I also do not recommend the open toe as often these can lead to fluid accumulating in the open part of the end of the foot.”
As always, we’re here to help answer your questions regarding your vein health. Feel free to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified vascular doctors to evaluate your legs and the best compression socks for you. In the meantime, relax, enjoy your trip, and review some more tips on smart ways to travel courtesy of the Vein Institute of NJ.