After a year of travel restrictions due to COVID, flights are beginning to open between new geographies. This means that more people will be traveling on airplanes in the coming months.
More than ever before, everyone is thinking about how to balance safety and comfort as we fly. With all the focus on masks and social distancing, the risk of pulmonary embolism may not be at the forefront of your mind while making travel plans.
Still, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Anyone traveling more than 4 hours by air, by car, or by bus can be at risk for blood clots."
We want to help you understand the dangers associated with travel-related blood clots—and learn more about how you can reduce your risk. In addition, we’ll share a few recommendations designed to make your airport experience as comfortable as possible.
Sitting on the Plane
Being seated in the same position for many hours at a time can put you at greater risk for blood clots. Luckily, compression socks decrease your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This is particularly important because DVT-related complications, such as pulmonary embolism, can be deadly.
Anyone can experience a blood clot. You may have heard stories about young and healthy people who develop deep vein blood clots during long flights. In some cases, the clot can break off and travel through the bloodstream, causing a blockage in the lung. In a systematic review of all cases of pulmonary embolism presenting upon arrival at France's busiest airport, researchers found that flying distances greater than 3,100 miles was a contributing risk factor for pulmonary embolism (Lapostolle et al. Abstract). The risk increased when people traveled greater distances.
As it turns out, you have a higher risk of forming deep vein blood clots anytime you sit in the same position, especially with your knees bent, for many hours at a time. For example, your risk of DVT would increase from sitting in a cramped position on a bus, in a plane, or on a train. Sitting for long periods can be risky, but compression socks offer a great tool to keep your blood circulating in a healthy way. They prevent your blood from becoming stagnant and forming clots.
In fact, a review of the scientific literature found that passengers who wore compression socks on flights lasting more than four hours experienced fewer incidents of DVT. This led the authors to conclude that superficial vein thrombosis may be reduced if passengers wear compression stockings. (Clarke Abstract) Since DVT can lead to pulmonary embolism, you may be able to prevent both DVT and pulmonary embolism by wearing knee-high compression socks.
Standing in Line
Standing for hours at a time can be unhealthy, as any waitress or retail employee knows. After many hours of standing, your legs may begin to feel heavy and achy. You may observe that your lower legs swell, as blood pools in your feet.
Scientists are able to measure this kind of bodily stress in the form of reactive oxygen metabolites, which begin to accumulate in the bloodstream when people stand for long periods of time. The presence of these metabolites, also known as oxidative stress, can put you at greater risk for chronic venous insufficiency, as well as other systemic diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer, and degenerative disorders.
Compression socks help you feel more comfortable as you stand in line. Better yet, they've been shown to prevent oxidative stress in standing workers. (Flore et al. Discussion) Even if you don't stand all day, every day, you can probably benefit from feeling more comfortable on your feet. Since they improve your circulation, compression socks also ensure that your bloodstream eliminates waste materials as efficiently as possible. As a result, you’ll notice less swelling and pain when you stand.
Your legs will feel more energized thanks to healthy blood flow. That’s why waiting in a long line at TSA could feel a lot less stressful when you wear a pair of compression socks.
Running Through the Airport
It's a common enough situation. You've gotten off a long-haul flight, only to discover that your connection is leaving in twenty minutes from another terminal. You'll need to sprint across the airport to get to your gate, but you haven't exactly been training for a race.
Compression socks have been shown to improve running economy (Engel Abstract). Beyond that, novice runners have shown significant improvements in ground stride length, swing time, and heel strike parameters when wearing compression socks (Jefry et al. Abstract). With the right socks, you might be less likely to misstep while you rush to your gate.
And, as you probably know from experience, every stride counts when you're scrambling to catch your next flight.
How to Select Compression Socks for Air Travel
It's best to plan ahead. Many vendors in the airport terminal sell compression socks—after all, they're great for flying—but not all purchases offer the same features.
We recommend buying knee-high compression socks in a durable, moisture-wicking fabric. Knee-high socks are easy to take on and off, and they’re also long enough to provide the medical benefits that come from graduated compression. You should look for socks with a gradient level of compression, meaning that each sock offers more pressure in the ankle and less in the calf. Graduated compression socks are labeled with a compression level range in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) rather than a single number or no measurement at all.
For example, Companions are great travel compression socks. They're made with SmartSilver antimicrobial technology, which kills odor-causing bacteria. With arch support and extra padding in the heel and toe area, you won't need to take them off between flights. They measure 15-25 mmHg, which means that they apply 15 mmHg at the calf and 25 mmHg at the feet. This is an optimal compression strength to prevent circulation problems, DVT, varicose veins, swelling, and other venous disorders. Although they exert enough pressure on your blood vessels to improve your overall circulation, they still feel comfortable enough to wear all day.
At Comrad, we also take pride in our designs. Unlike most of the other medical-grade compression socks out there, our socks don't look like something you'd find at pharmacies or medical supply stores. We've swapped out beige polyester stockings for something bolder and better. Whether you're sitting in an aisle seat or enjoying a night out on the town, Comrad socks fit right in.
Take a look at our reviews to see why 99% of reviewers would recommend them to a friend.
SSimons says: “Just traveled to Maui and these were perfect for the flight.”
Jordan S. agrees: “These are the best for flying, they stay up the whole time and feel great! #musthave”
Erika C. adds: “I always thought compression socks were these boring, unattractive, and tight socks but Comrad has definitely changed the game. I love that they have wide calf options cause that’s always a struggle to find. I used them on my 4 hour flight and an 8-he long distance drive and my feet and ankles weren’t swollen what so ever. I feel so comfortable in them!”
If you’re only packing one pair of socks, choose the pair that can multitask. Our best-selling socks manage to provide serious health benefits, including protection from dangerous blood clots—all while looking and smelling fresh. That’s why frequent flyers reach for our socks before long travel days.
“Blood Clots During Travel.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/travel/page/dvt.
Clarke MJ, et al. "Compression stockings for preventing deep vein thrombosis in airline passengers." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Iss. 9, 2016, pp. 1-40, https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004002.pub3/abstract..
Engel F.A., Holmberg H.C., Sperlich B. "Is There Evidence that Runners can Benefit from Wearing Compression Clothing?" Sports Med, vol. 46, iss. 12, 2016, pp. 939-952, .
Flore, Roberto et al. “Reduction of oxidative stress by compression stockings in standing workers.” Occupational medicine (Oxford, England), vol. 57, iss. 5, 2007, pp. 337-41. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqm021
Jefry, Muhammad Hanis, et al. “The Effect of Compression Socks on Running Kinematics in Experience and Novice Runners.” Enhancing Health and Sports Performance by Design, 2020, pp. 333–340., https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-3270-2_35.
Lapostolle, Frédéric, et al. “Severe Pulmonary Embolism Associated with Air Travel.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 345, no. 11, 2001, pp. 779–783, www.doi.org/10.1056/nejmoa010378.