2018 was the year travel nearly killed me. No, it wasn’t a close call driving in a foreign country which is how I always assumed I would get hurt traveling. Instead it was my long-distance flight from the US to India that nearly killed me. No, it wasn’t turbulence, terrorism, or mechanical failure. It was all due to contracting blood clots while flying on a long-distance flight, turning into 3 pulmonary embolisms that ended up in my lungs.
I was lucky, I survived and caught it in time thanks to a persistent ER doctor in Denver. Most people don’t.
Read about my story of contracting blood clots while flying and how they were discovered
After that near-death experience, I have been educating myself and others on the dangers of blood clots (DVT) and long-distance flights. Since my job is about inspiring people to travel, I certainly don’t want people to be afraid of travel or flying! I’m often asked what you can do to protect yourself against blood clots from flying and one of the first things I mention is compression socks.
That day in the hospital when I was diagnosed, as I was being discharged my doctor told me to make sure I get up and walk around on the plane regularly when I fly, stay hydrated, and wear compression socks. I don’t ever leave on a trip without wearing my compression socks now; they are my first line of defense.
What are Compression Socks and How Do They Work
You’ve probably heard of compression socks before, but assumed they were for elderly people with poor circulation like I previously did.
In actuality, they are for anyone – young, old, athletic, obese, post-surgery patients, or people who are on their feet a lot.
They are a long knee sock. It’s a compression sock because it’s knit in a fashion to gradually squeeze the leg from the bottom up. Squeezing the leg tissues and walls of the veins helps blood in the veins return to the heart.
They can also improve the flow of the fluid(called lymph) that bathes the cells in the legs. Improving the flow of lymph can help reduce tissue swelling.
Think of it as the socks giving your veins a boost pushing blood back to your heart; increasing circulation and preventing clotting.
What Causes Blood Clots
Sitting for long periods of time can cause blood flow below the knees to decrease by 50%, significantly increasing the chance of blood clots.
I contracted my blood clots on a 13-hour flight from NYC to Delhi when I sat in the middle seat and didn’t get up and move around because I passed out asleep for about 5 hours.
The risk occurs when you are sitting for longer than 2 hours without getting up. That means if you are one of those lucky people that fly first class and get to lay down and sleep, you don’t really have to be as concerned about sleeping for more than a couple of hours at a time.
This means that really anyone traveling more than a couple of hours, whether by air, car, bus, or train, can be at risk for blood clots. I had a young friend contract clots on a long train ride where he didn’t move around.
Granted, normally it’s not just about sitting for a couple of hours, you normally need to fall into one of these categories too:
- Older age (risk increases after age 40)
- Obesity (body mass index [BMI] greater than 30kg/m2)
- Recent surgery or injury (within 3 months)
- Use of estrogen-containing contraceptives (for example, birth control pills, rings,patches)
- Hormone replacement therapy (medical treatment in which hormones are given to reduce the effects of menopause)
- Pregnancy and the postpartum period (up to 3 months after childbirth)
- Previous blood clot or a family history of blood clots
- Active cancer or recent cancer treatment
- Limited mobility (for example, a leg cast)
- Catheter placed in a large vein
- Varicose veins
I think more people than you think actually fall into these risk categories. Heck – just look around the plane and at least over half of the people are over 40 alone.
I unknowingly had increased risk because I was over 40 and I was on birth control pills. Not once had anyone mentioned to me that by being on birth control I increased my risk of clots, this was a complete surprise to me.
And you also increase your risk of contracting blood clots while flying if you sit in a window seat. Yes…that window seat you tried so hard to get might not be worth it! A study by American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) suggest that long-distance travelers sitting in a window seat tend to have limited mobility, which is responsible for their increased risk of DVT.
Why You Should Wear Compression Socks When Traveling
Let’s talk numbers. About 2 to 5 out of every 10,000 people who take a flight longer than 6 to 8 hours developed deep vein thrombosis that caused symptoms (at the most 0.05%). That may not seem like a big risk, but if you can do something as simple as wearing compression socks when flying, and get up more often, why wouldn’t you?
Recent studies show that airline passengers who wear compression socks during flights can significantly reduce their risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) as well as leg swelling in general.
Compression socks are also great to have as you travel in general – not just on the plane! When you arrive at your destination, you generally walk around much more than you do in your normal day. I still remember each of my nieces traveling with me and complaining to me that they were tired of walking; they weren’t used to being on their feet all day. Wearing compression socks as you tour around help decrease lactic acid, prevent cramps, increase blood flow, increase oxygen delivery and minimize muscle fatigue. Your tired legs basically recover faster!
Compression Socks For Flying
Look – I never thought DVT and pulmonary emboli would happen to me. I’m young, healthy, I have been traveling for 13 years pretty much non-stop – I didn’t think I was at risk. However, it can happen to anyone. In fact, once I told my story to people I couldn’t believe how many other people I knew had similar scares or family/friends who had actually passed away due to a pulmonary embolism/DVT caused from a trip. Wearing compression socks on your next flight is easy to do, so why wouldn’t you reduce your risk?
Ok – you convinced me, so how do I wear Compression socks for flying?
I have a new travel ritual when it comes to flying days. I pick out a cute pair of compression socks or tights to wear for my travel day. I normally choose the sock based on the time of year. In winter I tend to wear wool ones and in the summer months I wear the nylon ones.
According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, “if you want to lower your risk by wearing compression stockings, you should put them on at least 2 hours before the flight and keep them on throughout the entire journey. Research has shown that these stockings lower the risk of deep vein thrombosis somewhat when used in this way.” So plan on putting the socks on early and wear them all day.
When I get through security, I fill up my water bottle so that I can stay hydrated throughout the flight. Plus, this is one time you want to get up and pee a lot because it makes you get up and move around!
Once I’m on the plane in my aisle seat (I never fly window seat any longer), I set my timer on my phone for 2 hours.
Every two hours I get up and walk around. I use the opportunity to go to the bathroom and I also normally march in place, stretch out my legs and back and then after a good 5 to 10 minutes on my feet again, I’ll return to my seat and set the timer again.
Even if it’s an overnight flight I still get up every 2 hours.
How long can you wear the socks for?
There are no real rules for how long you can wear them, however you should take them off at night when you are sleeping (unless you are on an overnight flight!). The only real drawbacks to them is that sometimes they are challenging to get on (here’s some tips on how to put them on), and I sometimes get a bit itchy or skin irritation if I wear them for a real long trip.
What level of Compression Socks Should You Use?
If you’ve ever shopped for compression socks, you’ve likely seen the numbers on them and wondered what they mean. You’ll normally see mmhg which stands for millimeters of mercury.
Generally, graduated compression is displayed in ranges. The higher the numerical value, the stronger (tighter) the support level indicated.
15 to 20 mmhg – this is the day to day stuff – or for people who aren’t at any increased risk. These are great for most people for travel.
20-30 mmhg – this is medical grade compression and often ‘prescribed’ by a healthcare professional for people who are at increased risk. I use these occasionally for my long flights since I now have a history of DVT. But for most people – it’s not necessary to have this level of compression.
Best Compression Socks for Flying
Now since you hopefully on board for why you should wear compression socks on your next trip, the next question I get is “where can I get compression socks?”
Vim&Vigr Compression Products
I accidentally got to know Vim & Vigr at a outdoor gear conference I was attending. I saw they they offered compression socks…and the real surprise were that they were cute designs! When you normally think of compression socks you think of plane black or nude colored socks that look like something your grandma would wear. But not these – these styles were something I’d wear!
I stopped and started talking to the women at the booth. And I told them my story of DVT while flying. They sent me off with a pair to try out on my next trip. After that I was hooked.
Unlike many brands making compression sock, Vim & Vigr started off as a compression sock company that wanted to make their socks more fashionable; they understand compression. As opposed to a regular sock company that decided to put one compression sock in their lineup.
Different sizes for calf – not all calves are the same…right? And when you are talking about compression around your calves – you want it to fit property else it will get uncomfortable really quick. Late last year Vim & Vigr started offering 3 new wide calf sizes to choose from.
Various materials for different weather – Vim & Vigr offer various fabrics in their cute socks.
Sleeves and Tights – They have more than just socks! You can get compressions sleeves (footless socks) which are great for the summer travel months when you want to wear sandals or open toed shoes. They also offer compression tights! I just like have more variety to choose from! And I can’t wait until they get in some compression leggings!
Their Company philosophy – The other thing that impressed me about Vim & Viber is the founder, Michelle Huie. I always love to support female owned companies. Michelle has worked in the healthcare industry for over 14 years before she decided to start making compression socks more fashionable!
They have really impressed me during the pandemic as they decided to start a ‘Buy one, Give one’ offer. Buy a pair of socks and they will give one to a healthcare professional!
“Right now, there are doctors, nurses and other healthcare4 professionals working around the clock to treat an influx of patients. These brave men and women are risking their health and well-being to care for others.We have the opportunity to help. Compression socks have been a favorite accessory of healthcare professionals for years. Doctors and nurses are some of our dearest customers & biggest advocates. Now, it’s our turn to give back.” – Michelle Huie – Founder
In the last month they have given away $105,012 of compression socks to healthcare professionals working tirelessly to care for patients affected by the virus. 55 hospitals have received socks for a front lines unit fighting COVID-19.
Use My VIM&VIGR Discount for Compression Socks!
Ottsworld Discount – I actually love Vim & Vigr so much that I am an ambassador for them. That means that you can use my reader discount code OTT15 for 15% off orders on their website! It expires 12/31/20.
Check out their styles at VimVigr.com
Other Compression Socks I Have Used
I’ve used other compression socks too that have worked well. They just weren’t as fashionable or didn’t have the variety of choices, sizes, and materials. Here’s a couple more that I have in my compression sock arsenal:
Take the risk out of your next flight or trip and be sure to try out compression socks as well as get up and walk around! It’s easy and painless to wear compression socks for travel. Plus – you can look good at the same time you are doing something good for yourself! You’ll get off the plane with a new bounce in your step! Let the vacation begin!
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