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Why Do My Feet Swell On Airplane


by Alyda Christman



Traveling by airplane is a convenient and efficient way to reach our destinations, but it can also come with some discomforts. One common issue that many travelers experience is the swelling of their feet during a flight. This phenomenon, known as airplane-induced foot swelling or edema, can be quite bothersome and can affect the overall comfort of your journey. Understanding why this happens and how to prevent it is essential for a more enjoyable travel experience.


When we travel by air, our bodies experience certain changes due to factors such as cabin pressure, cabin humidity levels, and prolonged sitting. These factors can contribute to the retention of fluid in our lower extremities, leading to swelling and discomfort. It’s important to note that foot swelling during air travel is a temporary condition that typically resolves itself once you land and resume your regular activities.


In this article, we will delve deeper into the causes of foot swelling during airplane travel and provide some practical tips and remedies to help prevent this issue. By implementing these strategies, you can ensure a more comfortable and pleasant journey without the discomfort of swollen feet.


Understanding why feet swell during airplane travel

Feet swelling during airplane travel can be attributed to a combination of factors, including changes in cabin pressure, restricted movement, and dehydration. Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors:


Cabin pressure: When you’re on a flight, the cabin’s air pressure is lower than what our bodies are used to at ground level. As a result, the reduced pressure causes the fluids in your body to expand. This expansion can lead to the retention of fluid in your lower extremities, causing swelling in your feet and ankles.


Restricted movement: Air travel often involves long periods of sitting with limited opportunities for movement. When we sit for an extended duration, our calf muscles don’t contract as much as they would during physical activity. This lack of movement can impede proper blood circulation, leading to increased fluid pooling in the feet and ankles.


Dehydration: Airplane cabins have low humidity levels, which can contribute to dehydration. When we’re dehydrated, our bodies tend to retain fluid, which can manifest as swelling in the feet and ankles. It’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your flight.


Additionally, some individuals may be more prone to foot swelling due to factors such as age, pre-existing medical conditions, and certain medications. It’s always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about how air travel may affect your feet and ankles.


By understanding the reasons behind foot swelling during airplane travel, we can now explore various strategies to help minimize this issue. In the next section, we will discuss some effective tips to prevent foot swelling and maintain comfortable and healthy feet during your journey.


Factors that contribute to foot swelling on airplanes

Several factors can contribute to foot swelling on airplanes. Understanding these factors can help you take proactive measures to prevent or reduce the swelling. Let’s explore the main culprits:


Gravity: While sitting for an extended period, the force of gravity can cause blood and fluid to pool in the lower extremities, including the feet and ankles. This pooling of fluid can lead to swelling in these areas.


Decreased physical activity: During a flight, there is limited opportunity for physical movement. This lack of activity can hinder proper blood circulation in the legs and feet, promoting fluid retention and subsequent swelling.


Tight clothing and footwear: Wearing tight-fitting shoes or clothing can impede blood flow in the feet and ankles, exacerbating foot swelling. It’s important to choose comfortable and loose-fitting attire to allow for better circulation.


Cabin pressure and humidity: As mentioned earlier, the reduced cabin pressure during air travel can cause fluid to expand in the body, leading to foot swelling. Additionally, the low humidity levels in the cabin can contribute to dehydration, which can further exacerbate swelling.


Poor hydration: Dehydration can contribute to foot swelling by causing the body to retain fluid. It’s crucial to stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the flight to help maintain proper fluid balance and minimize swelling.


Pre-existing medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as venous insufficiency or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can increase the risk of foot swelling during air travel. These conditions affect blood flow and can lead to fluid retention in the feet and ankles. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before traveling and follow their recommendations.


Long-duration flights: The longer the flight, the more time there is for foot swelling to occur. If you’re embarking on a long-duration flight, it’s essential to be proactive in preventing foot swelling by implementing the tips and exercises we will discuss later in this article.


By being aware of these contributing factors, you can take steps to mitigate foot swelling and make your air travel experience more comfortable. In the next section, we will discuss the effects of prolonged sitting on foot circulation and explore how it relates to foot swelling during air travel.


Effects of prolonged sitting on foot circulation

Prolonged sitting during air travel can have a significant impact on foot circulation, contributing to foot swelling. When we sit for an extended period, especially in a confined space like an airplane seat, several issues arise that affect blood flow in the lower extremities. Let’s explore the effects of prolonged sitting on foot circulation:


Reduced muscle activity: Sitting for an extended duration restricts the contraction of the calf muscles, which are essential for pumping blood back up to the heart. When these muscles are inactive, blood flow becomes sluggish, increasing the likelihood of fluid accumulation and subsequent foot swelling.


Compression of blood vessels: Sitting for long periods can compress blood vessels in the legs and feet, impeding the proper flow of blood and increasing the risk of fluid pooling in these areas. This compression can exacerbate foot swelling and lead to discomfort.


Decreased lymphatic drainage: Prolonged sitting can also affect the lymphatic system, which plays a crucial role in removing excess fluid and waste products from tissues. Reduced movement can hinder lymphatic drainage, contributing to fluid retention and subsequent foot swelling.


Increase in blood pressure: When we sit for a long time, blood pressure in the veins can increase due to the effects of gravity. This increased pressure can lead to fluid leakage into the surrounding tissues, resulting in foot swelling.


Formation of blood clots: Prolonged sitting, especially during long flights, increases the risk of developing blood clots, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Blood clots can impede blood flow and cause foot swelling as a result of impaired circulation.


To combat the negative effects of prolonged sitting on foot circulation, it’s crucial to engage in regular movement and exercises during your flight. In the next sections, we will discuss some effective tips and exercises to prevent foot swelling and improve blood circulation during air travel.


Tips to prevent foot swelling during air travel

To prevent foot swelling during air travel, it’s important to implement certain strategies that promote proper blood circulation and reduce fluid retention. Here are some effective tips to keep your feet comfortable and swelling-free during your flight:

  1. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight to prevent dehydration and aid in fluid balance. Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, as they can contribute to dehydration.
  2. Avoid tight clothing and footwear: Opt for loose-fitting and breathable clothing that doesn’t constrict blood flow. Choose comfortable shoes with enough room for your feet to move and expand.
  3. Elevate your feet: Whenever possible, elevate your feet by using a footrest, placing your bag or pillow under your feet, or propping them up against the seat in front of you. Elevating your feet helps to reduce swelling and promote blood circulation.
  4. Wear compression socks or stockings: Compression socks or stockings apply gentle pressure to the lower legs, promoting better blood flow and preventing fluid buildup in the feet and ankles. Consider wearing them during your flight, especially for long-duration journeys.
  5. Take regular walks and stretch breaks: Get up from your seat and walk around the cabin whenever it’s safe to do so. This helps to stimulate blood circulation and prevent blood from pooling in your feet. Additionally, perform simple foot and leg stretches while seated to keep your muscles active.
  6. Avoid crossing your legs: Crossing your legs while seated can restrict blood flow and contribute to foot swelling. Keep your feet planted on the floor or use a footrest to maintain proper circulation.
  7. Use foot exercises: Engage in simple foot exercises during your flight to keep your feet and calf muscles active. Rotate your ankles, flex and point your feet, and wiggle your toes periodically to improve blood circulation.
  8. Consider medication or supplements: In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend taking medication or supplements to help prevent foot swelling during air travel. Consult with your doctor beforehand to discuss any necessary precautions or recommendations.

By implementing these tips, you can significantly reduce the chances of experiencing foot swelling during your flight. However, it’s important to remember that everyone’s body is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It may be necessary to try a combination of strategies to find what provides the most relief for you. In the next section, we will explore exercises that can further improve blood circulation and reduce foot swelling during flights.


Exercises to improve blood circulation during flights

Engaging in regular exercises during your flight can help improve blood circulation and prevent foot swelling. These exercises are simple and can be performed while seated, making them ideal for air travel. Here are some exercises to consider:

  1. Ankle circles: Lift your feet off the floor and rotate your ankles in a circular motion, clockwise and counterclockwise. Do this exercise for a few minutes to promote blood flow in your feet and lower legs.
  2. Toe taps: Raise your heels off the floor while keeping your toes touching the ground. Then, alternately tap your toes up and down. This exercise helps to activate the calf muscles and improve blood circulation.
  3. Calf raises: While seated, lift your heels off the floor and rise up onto your toes. Then, lower your heels back to the floor. Repeat this motion several times to engage your calf muscles and promote circulation.
  4. Foot pump: Begin by placing your heels on the floor and raising the balls of your feet off the ground. Then, lower your heels back down and raise your toes up. Repeat this pumping motion to stimulate blood flow in your feet and lower legs.
  5. Knee-to-chest stretch: Sit upright and bring one knee up towards your chest. Hold onto your knee with your hands and gently pull it closer to your body. Maintain this stretch for a few seconds and then switch sides. This exercise helps to alleviate tension in the lower back and improve circulation.
  6. Seated leg extensions: Sit at the edge of your seat with your back straight. Extend one leg in front of you and flex your foot, pointing your toes upward. Then, lower your leg back down and repeat with the other leg. This exercise engages the leg muscles and promotes blood flow.
  7. Deep breathing exercises: Take deep breaths in through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Deep breathing helps to oxygenate your blood and improve circulation throughout your body.
  8. Yoga poses: If space permits, you can perform seated yoga poses such as the seated forward bend or the seated spinal twist. These poses can help stretch and activate various muscle groups, leading to improved blood flow and reduced foot swelling.

Remember to perform these exercises in a gentle and controlled manner, taking care not to overexert yourself or disturb other passengers. It’s also important to listen to your body and adjust the exercises as needed to accommodate any physical limitations or discomfort.


By incorporating these exercises into your air travel routine, you can enhance blood circulation, reduce foot swelling, and arrive at your destination with more comfortable and refreshed feet. In the next section, we will explore additional remedies that can help alleviate foot swelling during flights.


Other remedies for reducing foot swelling on airplanes

In addition to exercises and preventive measures, there are other remedies that can help reduce foot swelling during air travel. These remedies focus on improving circulation, reducing fluid retention, and providing relief for swollen feet. Consider these options:

  1. Cooling packs or ice: Applying a cold compress or ice pack to your feet can help reduce swelling by constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation. Wrap the ice pack in a cloth or towel and apply it to your feet for short periods, taking breaks to avoid prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.
  2. Massage: Gently massaging your feet and legs can promote blood flow, reduce fluid buildup, and provide relief from foot swelling. Use your hands or a small massage tool to apply gentle pressure in circular motions, focusing on the areas where swelling is present.
  3. Epsom salt soak: Soaking your feet in warm water with Epsom salt can help reduce foot and ankle swelling. The magnesium sulfate in Epsom salt can help draw out excess fluid and promote relaxation. Add a generous amount of Epsom salt to warm water and soak your feet for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Avoid crossing your legs: Crossing your legs while seated can restrict blood flow and contribute to foot swelling. Keep your feet planted on the floor or use a footrest to maintain proper circulation.
  5. Anti-inflammatory medication: If approved by your healthcare provider, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can help reduce swelling and alleviate discomfort. Always follow the recommended dosage instructions and consult with your doctor before taking any medication.
  6. Hydrating foot cream or lotion: Using a hydrating foot cream or lotion can help moisturize and soothe your feet, reducing dryness and minimizing swelling. Look for products that contain ingredients like aloe vera or menthol, which can provide a cooling effect.
  7. Avoid excessive salt intake: Consuming excessive amounts of salt can contribute to fluid retention and worsen foot swelling. Limit your intake of salty foods before and during your flight to help minimize swelling.
  8. Wear loose-fitting shoes and clothing after your flight: Once you arrive at your destination, opt for loose-fitting shoes and clothing to allow your feet and ankles to breathe and recover from the flight. Avoid tight shoes or socks that may constrict blood flow and impede circulation.

It’s important to note that these remedies are intended to provide relief and reduce foot swelling during your flight. However, if you experience persistent or severe swelling accompanied by pain, redness, or warmth in the affected area, it’s essential to seek medical attention, as these may be signs of a more serious condition.


By combining these remedies with the tips and exercises mentioned earlier, you can effectively reduce foot swelling and enjoy a more comfortable and pleasant journey. In the next section, we will conclude our discussion on foot swelling during air travel.



Foot swelling during air travel can be an uncomfortable and bothersome experience, but with a better understanding of its causes and practical strategies to prevent it, you can significantly reduce its impact. By implementing the tips, exercises, and remedies discussed in this article, you can improve blood circulation, reduce fluid retention, and minimize foot swelling during your flight.


Remember to stay hydrated, avoid tight clothing and footwear, and take regular movement breaks to keep your blood flowing. The exercises we’ve suggested, such as ankle circles and toe taps, can be performed while seated to promote circulation. Additionally, considering the use of compression socks, elevation of the feet, and implementing cooling packs or ice can further aid in reducing swelling and discomfort.


It’s important to tailor these preventive measures and remedies to suit your individual needs and preferences. What works for one person may not work for another, so feel free to experiment and find the strategies that provide the most relief for you.


However, it’s worth noting that if you have pre-existing medical conditions or concerns, it’s always advisable to consult with your healthcare provider before implementing any new strategies or remedies. They can provide personalized advice and ensure the strategies align with your specific health requirements.


By taking proactive steps to prevent foot swelling during air travel, you can enhance your overall travel experience and arrive at your destination with more comfortable and healthier feet. So, the next time you embark on a flight, incorporate these tips into your travel routine and enjoy a swelling-free journey.