Last Updated February 10, 2020
We all love to travel but we always put ourselves at risk of deadly blood clots because of wearing flight socks incorrectly. Wearing flight stockings at the wrong time could mean they will not be as effective as you require them to be. Travelers are often advised to putting on compression socks before travelling to minimize the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and leg swelling from the flight.
However, travelers use compression stockings incorrectly which make the socks ineffective. It is important to note that the socks should be put on early on in the day ideally the first thing in the morning as that is the time when your legs are less swollen. This will allow the body to adapt to the compression stockings and reduce the risk of swelling later on in your journey. It is also important not to remove the socks immediately you land to give the body time to adapt.
The best time to remove the socks is at the hotel or some hours afterwards to allow the system to equate. Wearing flight socks for that extra time will help you reduce leg swelling and also allow the socks to work effectively than when they are taken off straight away.
Between the pressure changes, dry air and cramped flight conditions, flying for hours can be tough on your body. But stiff muscles and dehydration are not the only hazards associated with flying. This is why using flight socks will help you reduce the risk of swelling in legs and minimize blood clots. This is the reason why you should check if you have a compression stocking packed when travelling.
What are compression stockings?
Compression socks are snug fitting and supportive that run-up to the top of your calf. These socks encourage a healthy blood circulation from your ankles up to your heart. Most graduated compression stockings apply more pressure at the ankles than the calf.
They work by applying constant pressure thus preventing pooling of blood in the legs which are at risk of a blood clot. As arteries work to bringing oxygenated blood pumped from the heart to all areas of the body, the veins work by returning the blood to the lungs for fresh oxygen, the compression socks aid in this venous return.
Types of Compression stockings
But before we can get in deeper on how to use compression socks when flying, we should first understand what are compression stockings. These socks are medical grade socks designed to help the movement of blood. You will find that these socks come in different levels which range from mild (8-15 mmHg), Medium (15-20 mmHg), Firm (20-30 mmHg) and X-Firm (30-40 mmHg).
The mmHg (millimeters of mercury) is the unit used to rate these socks. There are usually two numbers associated with the socks which represent the pressure measured at the ankle and the calf. For example, a 20-30 mmHg means 20 mmHg of pressure at the calf and 30 mmHg of pressure at the ankle. The lower the number the milder the compression.
Those with no medical condition can start with lower-level compression socks as they will be easier to put on. The higher pressure socks are designed for those who have advanced symptoms related to swelling or from venous surgery. Please note that higher compression strengths will require a doctors prescription.
There are 3 primary types of compression socks available in the market. These are:
- graduated compression socks
- non-medical support socks
- anti-embolism socks
TED Stockings (Anti-embolism socks)
These socks help in reducing the possibility of deep vein thrombosis. Just like the graduated socks, they offer gradient compression but the level of compression differs. These types of socks are designed for those who are immobile.
With flight socks, the compression level is strongest at the ankle and the pressure gradually decreases as you move up the leg. They are designed to meet certain strength and length for mobility. They generally require professional fitting.
Stockings which end below the knee helps limit peripheral oedema or leg swelling as a result of fluid buildup.
There are compression stocking variants which extend to the thigh or waist to reduce pooling of blood in legs thus preventing orthostatic hypotension. Some compression socks suppliers offer personal preferences such as open or closed-toe and color.
Non-Medical support stockings
These socks do not need a prescription. They include flight stockings which offer elastic support as a potential relief for aching legs. You can purchase these socks online or your local pharmacy.
Who should wear compression socks?
Aside from people who have medical conditions or due to the nature of their jobs, all travelers can benefit from the use of compression socks. Those with a higher risk of blood clots and swelling such as obese people, pregnant ladies, people with clotting problems, people with varicose veins or those who had blood clots in the past can benefit from compression stockings. But beware that if your condition is severe, you should seek a prescription from your healthcare provider.
Due to the long hours on flights, the compression socks will help your blood circulate due to the pressure applied to the ankles and calf. This will minimize the chances of developing blood clots or swelling.
Who should avoid flight stockings?
While most travelers can wear flight stockings without any major issues, they might not be suitable for those with select medical conditions. Compression socks can be uncomfortable for people with open wounds on their legs or patients with severe peripheral arterial disease.
Also those with poor circulation, damage to the nerves in the feet from diseases such as diabetes or otherwise and skin infections should first seek a doctor’s prescription as flight stockings might not be ideal for them.
Prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT) when flying
Well, travel-related DVT is rare in healthy people but when travelling for long distances, there are several ways in which you can minimize the risk of developing DVT.
DVT is a condition where a blood clot forms in the deep veins usually in the leg which in turns results in blocked veins thus hindering blood flow. This condition can occur after sitting still for long periods when travelling either in the air, train or bus.
Advice to minimize the risk of travel-related DVT
If your journey itinerary involves travelling for 3 hours or more by train, car or plane, follow the following steps during the journey to reduce the risk of developing DVT.
- Wear loose comfortable clothes
- Do calf excises at least every 30 min. You can do this by raising your heels, keeping your toes on the floor then bringing them down 10 times. Then raise and lower your toes 10 times.
- Hydrate while on the journey
- Avoid taking alcohol or sleeping pills.
- Whenever you get the chance – walk around
- Wear Flight Socks (20-30 mmHg Compression Socks)
Who’s is at extra risk of developing travel-related DVT?
There are some health conditions which may put you at risk of developing DVT on long journeys. You are at the high-risk group of developing DVT if you:
- Have cancer
- Have a history of pulmonary embolism
- Have had a stroke in the past
- Have a heart disease
- Tend to get blood clots
- Undergone surgery recently especially in the legs
- Are obese
- You are pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 6 weeks
- taking oestrogen-containing medicines.
If you suspect you are at risk of developing DVT, you can seek help from your health provider before travelling. You can take extra precaution by wearing flight stockings during the journey.
Travelling while recovering from the previous DVT
If you have had DVT recently, you are probably taking medicine to prevent new blood clots. If this is the case, the medicine will protect you from developing another DVT. So the risk of developing DVT from flying is lower and there should be no reason why you cannot travel. Speak to your healthcare provider before travelling if you have any concerns.
Choosing the right compression socks
As earlier mentioned there are different varieties of compression stockings available in the market and they vary in compression level, length, material, style and size. It can be overwhelming when trying to choose your flight stockings. These are the factors which will guide you when searching for compression socks. If you are wearing compression stockings due to a medical condition, your doctor is the best resource to have.
The compression level you need will depend on your need for compression socks. The standard levels include:
- Light-moderate compression, 15-20 mmHg – these are perfect for travelling. If your work entails standing all day, pregnant or experiencing mild leg swelling, these types of socks will come in handy.
- Moderate compression, 20-30 mmHg – these are great for legs which experience moderate swelling and varicose veins because of pregnancy or another condition. You can also wear them when your legs feel tired and heavy.
- Firm compression, 30-40 mmHg – these are usually required when you have moderate to severe varicose veins, moderate oedema, or after vein treatment such as vein stripping. They also come in handy for combating lymphedema.
- Extra firm compression, 40-50 mmHg – they help with severe oedema, or varicose veins, chronic venous diseases or severe post-thrombotic syndrome.
- Heavy compression, 50-60 mmHg – this is the strongest standard compression level and is primarily used in relieving Post Thrombotic Syndrome and lymphedema.
The material used to make the flight stockings will depend on the need for the compression socks. Some are made of rubber, Lycra or spandex and they come in different lengths like knee, thigh or full. If your need for compression socks is because you are flying for a long period, then you need to choose a sock that is comfortable for you.
You need to find the right size when selecting these socks. Retailers will help by providing a measurement chart which will instruct you on how to best determine your size. These charts depend on what type of compression sock you desire. For example, your shoe size will greatly influence a knee sock or over the knee sock. Full compression socks are usually sized regular in department stores. The size of your flight stocking is based off a ratio between weight and height. Other may require measurements for ankle circumference, calf-length and calf circumference.
You should also choose a style which will fit perfectly with your attire. Retailers will give you an option from which you can choose from. You can choose from plain colors to a blend of colors, depending on your desire and use. You can also choose between closed or open-toe compression socks.
How to wear compression stockings
Putting on compression socks takes a little practice. The best way to wear them is to grab the toe and fold the rest of the socks inside out. Now place your foot into the toe area and roll the rest of the socks over your ankle and calf.
It is recommended that you put on the flight stockings in the morning after waking up as this is the time before your leg develops swelling as it is impossible to put on compression socks in the confines of a plane.
Remember that if you feel discomfort while wearing the compression socks when flying, then you got the wrong compression level. This can cause more harm than good. Wearing compression stocking should feel like your calves are receiving a gentle hug from the socks.
Benefits of wearing compression socks
As stated before, compression socks offer a variety of benefits to users. It provides pressure to the ankles and calves thus reducing swelling and DVT when travelling. The pressure applied helps improve blood flow in your legs back to your heart.
Sitting for long periods of times might be at risk of developing DVT. The lack of mobility when travelling causes low blood flow and puts a traveler at risk of dangerous blood clots. This is why flight personnel incorporate compression stockings in the routine for pain-free travelling.
Athletes claim that wearing compression socks during the activity helps improve their performance. Wearing compression socks during and post workouts will improve muscle recovery. Wearing the stockings will naturally alleviate lactic acid from building up and reduce wear and tear on the muscle.
Speedy injury recovery
Doctors recommend using compression socks to naturally stimulate the healing of the body. Compression socks are helpful after a patient has undergone surgery and when managing chronic illnesses and pain. But be sure to consult your healthcare provider as compression socks are not recommended for some medical conditions.
Pregnant women will find immediate relief from aching and swollen feet when they use compression socks. The compression socks and sleeves offer a comfortable, cooling effect and are easy to put on.
Employees whose work entail standing up for long periods can reduce the chance of getting swollen feet by using Compression stockings. The graduated socks will invigorate the feet and legs by alleviating muscle stiffness caused by the lack of movement.
Flight Socks ( aka Compression Socks ) can only feel uncomfortable when worn incorrectly so make sure to be vigilant when choosing your compression socks to get the right compression either for travelling or working. These socks are handy as they will reduce the chances of developing DVT or leg swelling.