Just Sit There…Move!
The next time you're on a plane or train for hours, heed the advice
of Dr. Allan Gordon. The renowned Neurologist, Director of an innovative
Pain Management Center says: A little activity can go a long way
towards preventing blood clots and pain.
By Toby Saltzman
Used to be that doctors used the phrase "Economy Class Syndrome"
to peg the collective maladies that patients developed during long
haul flights. Back then, it was thought that those at the back of
a plane were more likely to develop phlebitis - blood clotting in
the veins of the legs - which can be a serious and potentially fatal
Turns out, the affliction has less to with class of travel - from
first to economy - than, among other things, prolonged inactivity.
When you are sitting in a confined space, immobile for more than
three hours, you are potentially courting problems, says Dr. Allan
Gordon, Neurologist and Director of the Wasser Pain Management Center
at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital. "In such situations, the majority
of travelers may experience swollen ankles and feet, or pinch a
nerve. If they have poor arteries, continued pressure on one area
(say, on the back of the thighs from a firm seat) can cause ulcerations.
If they have back problems, arthritis or Parkinson's disease, they
can stiffen up." But in some cases - and the risk is higher if you
are over 40, pregnant, dehydrated, have experienced recent surgery
or have a history of heart or vein problems - the inactivity can
precipitate a blood clot. "In extreme cases, clotting in the veins
of the legs (phlebitis) could conceivably break into smaller clots
that travel through the body to the lungs, causing chest pains and
Dr. Gordon suggests a number of sensible strategies for avoiding
the potential discomforts of a long-haul journey and for minimizing
the risk of blood clots. "Think preventatively. Choose the right
seat on the right airplane. Pick flights that offer ample room between
seats so that you will not be cramped into a tight position. Plan
your seat: choose a bulkhead, aisle, or emergency-exit seat that
allows you get up and move about comparatively easily. Change your
position and stretch every half-hour."
There are little movements you can do right in your seat, in any
class: Elevate your legs on your hand luggage; rotate your feet
in alternate directions to soothe your ankles; stretch your calf
muscles by clench your toes towards you while keeping your heels
on the ground. As for dehydration: avoid alcohol and drink plenty
of fluids." Your body will thank you after long-haul journeys if
you don't just sit there, but move.