Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Written by: Alexander Riordan, MD
Is it safe for you to travel after a surgery? How can you help prevent a possibly life-threatening blood clot? Read more and find out...
1. Know your history and family history of blood clots. If you personally or an immediate family member (mother, father, brother, sister) have had blood clots (also known as deep venous thrombosis (DVT) or venous thromboembolism (VTE)) in the past, then you should be particularly diligent with prevention. If multiple family members have had blood clots, you may want to inquire with your primary care physician as to whether genetic testing would be beneficial. If you have a known personal history of blood clots, then be sure to be compliant with your physician-recommended medications or blood thinners if you are on them.
2. Get out of your seat every 30-45 minutes to walk up and down the aisle- don’t be embarrassed- it’s better than dealing with a blood clot in your leg or lungs. This is especially important if you’ve recently had surgery. If you are planning a plane ride within 3 months after a surgery, you should consult with your surgeon to see if travel is safe for you. Most surgeons will want you to delay plane rides for at least I 4-6 weeks post op, depending on the surgery you’ve had. Try to nab an aisle seat if you’ve recently had surgery since you’ll want to make it easy to get up. Obviously, please follow plane guidelines and only get up out of your seat if allowed.
3. Stretch! Use all the space available to you! Stretch your legs straight under the seat in front of you if you have room and stretch your arms (even if straight upwards or straight out to the sides of the seat). Alter between sitting up straight and reclining in your chair as well to prevent blood from being cut off at your waistline. If you can find a moment to stand in the aisle, bend at your knee bringing your foot behind you up to your buttocks, flex your hip up trying to touch your knee to your chest, bend over to touch your toes, and arch your back. Alternating these stretches and squeezing your muscles moves blood back up to your heart. Good circulation helps prevent blood from clotting. Note: you may be restricted from performing some of these stretches if you’ve recently had a hip replacement- be sure to consult with your surgeon.
4. Ankle pumps are a perfect way to keep the blood circulating well even if that fasten seatbelt sign is on. These should be done as often as possible (about every 15-20 minutes is reasonable in between getting up out of your seat). All you have to do is push/point your foot and toes down as far down as they go as if you are stepping on the gas- if you do it hard enough you will feel a squeezing in the back of your calf- hold that pose and squeeze hard for 5 seconds. Then point the toes upwards towards your nose- you’ll feel a squeezing in the front of your lower leg- hold again for 5 seconds, then repeat! Do this for at least a couple minutes at a time. Add in some simple toe curls and straightening in the same fashion for some variety. The blood in your lower legs is the most at risk for clotting (it’s furthest from your heart!) so this tip is especially important to follow.
5. Stay hydrated! Consider passing on the free coffee or soda offered on planes, and instead opt for some good old liquid H2O. The hydration will help keep the blood in your veins light and thin, whereas being dehydrated is like having sticky maple syrup in your veins- which as you can imagine is difficult to circulate back to your heart. Sticky blood in your veins promotes unwanted clotting and puts you at risk. Drink up! A pro-tip from my wife is to travel with your own water bottle from home (must be completely empty to get through security) and fill it up from a water fountain when waiting to board the plane. Not being able to afford expensive airport bottled water is no excuse for being dehydrated!