The Benefits of Compression Therapy for Travel
As I am writing this, I am on a flight to Toronto. I am wedged into my window seat beside a businessman using his laptop and another gentleman sleeping. There is no way I am getting up to stretch. However, I am wearing compression stockings. Compression socks and stockings bring up negative connotations of ‘getting old’ with a lot of my patients. However, this is far from the truth.
When we sit on a plane or at a desk all day, blood has a tendency to pool in our feet. It is hard for blood to fight gravity and get back to the heart. Over time, this can lead to a break-down of the valve system in the veins. This creates the lumpy looking, very noticeable, varicose veins that are common in 40% of adults. This can also happen to people who stand in a confined area for several hours at a time. (Think cashiers, baristas, or lecturers.)
When you fly, you are relatively immobilized and sedentary. Not only are you sitting, but you cannot often stretch out and so your knees and hips are bent for many hours. This negatively affects blood flow through these areas, in addition to the poor gravity-fighting properties I mentioned earlier.
Lastly, while an airplane is partially pressurized, there is a change in pressure compared to ground level. All this can lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVTs), which has recently garnered attention in the media. A DVT is a blood clot in the lower leg. Not only are there serious health implications with DVTs, but they can also reduce your chances of future air travel.
So, back to my original point about compression socks. Compression therapy can come in sock, stocking or sleeve form. It is a graduated form of compression that helps to shunt blood back up to the heart, promoting proper circulation and blood flow. They have many other benefits, including:
They have many other benefits, including:
- Reducing fatigued or “heavy”-feeling legs.
- Reducing muscle cramping in the calves.
- Increasing energy due to increased oxygenation of the muscles.
- Preventing varicose and spider veins.
- Reducing swelling.
Compression can be purchased over-the-counter, which is a low grade of compression and does not require a medical prescription. Over-the-counter compression is not covered through an extended healthcare provider. Sizing is based on shoe size and calf circumference.
Medical compression is necessary if you want full stockings or if you need a higher gradient of compression; this may be due to a pre-existing condition. A prescription is required for medical grade compression. An appointment would need to be made first thing in the morning so that measurements can be taken before any swelling may occur in the legs and feet.
Extended health care will typically cover two to four pairs of medical-grade compression socks/sleeves/stockings a year. If you are wearing a pair every day, you can get about 6 months of life out of it before the compression is rendered less effective.
To review, compression should be worn whenever you are sitting or standing for long periods of time. It takes seven consecutive steps to get the calf muscle pumping blood back to the heart. If you are travelling, either by air, or even a road trip, wear compression.
Pregnant women can benefit from compression therapy to reduce strain on the blood vessels while carrying the added weight of a baby. Athletes can benefit from compression therapy both during their sport (knee-high socks in marathon runners are not simply a fashion statement!) and as a recovery tool afterwards.
So put aside your vanity, and think about your health for a moment – consider wearing compression therapy.