Heavy, Painful & Swollen Legs

Varicose Veins

Prevention of Chronic Venous Disease


Traveling with Heavy, Painful and Swollen Legs: All Questions Answered

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),1 more than 300 million people travel on long-distance flights each year. But what happens when you suffer from chronic venous insufficiency? Can long-distance travel be hazardous?

Long-distance traveling is generally considered to involve any journey that lasts more than 4 hours, whether by car, train, or plane, during which experience people are more likely to spend a large amount of time in the same position: typically sitting down. As with office jobs, sitting down for long periods of time can cause swollen, heavy, and painful legs  as a result of the worsening of blood circulation from the legs to the heart which can increase the risk of blood clots forming.

In this article, we will share how traveling long distances can affect your vein health, the risk factors, and tips to make long-distance traveling as safe as possible when suffering from varicose veins or chronic venous insufficiency.

How can long-haul travel affect your vein health?

Long distance traveling can have a negative effect on your vein health2 which can increase problems related to venous insufficiency. This, in turn, can worsen the feeling of heavy and painful legs.

If you already suffer from varicose veins, sitting for hours can also end up irritating varicose veins3 which can in turn increase the risk of developing a blood clot in your veins.

Regardless of the mode of travel (train, car, airplane, or boat) immobility seems to be one of the most contributing factors of suffering from a venous disease in long-haul traveling.4

However, air travel can carry an increased risk, although small, of the development of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in patients who are already considered to be at risk.5

flying with varicose veins

Is it safe to take long plane journeys when suffering from a chronic venous disease?

Although it is always recommended to first consult your doctor it seems that, as long as well-structured preventive measures are put into practice during long-distance flights, those potential risks can be significantly reduced, even for those already suffering from chronic venous disease or varicose veins.

It is important to note that, to date, not enough research has yet been done about the effect of long-distance travel planes and venous insufficiency. A conclusion reflected in a 2007 study where the WHO (World Health Organization) project6 found that, while cases of venous thromboembolism (VTE) are higher after long-distance travel, the overall risk is still relatively low.

Alongside the increased risks due to the issue of restricted mobility when taking a plane, another potential factor enters into play: dehydration.

Dehydration can cause your blood vessels to narrow and your blood to thicken,7 and when in a plane, the low oxygen and high-pressure conditions can dehydrate your body even further which can contribute to the formation of clots.8

What are the risk factors of long-distance travel for vein health?

As we have mentioned, long-distance traveling – in particular, flying – can increase the risk of developing venous diseases,9 but there are some general risk factors worth taking into consideration when planning a long-distance trip:

  • Being over the age of 40
  • Being female
  • Using estrogen-containing birth control
  • Being pregnant or having recently given birth
  • Obesity
  • Cancer or recent cancer treatment
  • Pre-existing vein disease
  • Previous blood clot or a family history of blood clots
  • Recent immobility or injury (within the last 3 months)
  • Drinking alcohol, which can further exacerbate dehydration.
  • Smoking

Do bear in mind that these risk factors are just common guidance to help people prevent the likelihood of suffering from varicose veins or any other related chronic venous disease. It is always advisable to take any venous disease seriously, as these are progressive conditions that can quickly worsen if ignored or left untreated.

traveling with venous insufficiency

Tips for long-distance travel with venous insufficiency or varicose veins.

  • Move legs & feet. There are several exercises that can really help improve the blood flow within your lower extremities when traveling long distances and remaining immobile for long periods of time, especially when onboard a plane. Here are some examples:
    • Drawing circles with your ankle
    • Lifting the legs
    • Raising the knees
    • “Foot pumps” 

foot pumping for cvd

  • Wear compression stockings. A standard accessory when it comes to preventing the worsening of venous diseases and improving blood circulation. They are useful to prevent deep vein thrombosis in airline traveling.10
  • Stay hydrated. It is recommended for adults to drink at least 2 liters of water a day to stay properly hydrated,1 which also means that you should definitely try to stay away from coffee, tea and other highly caffeinated sodas and energy drinks, all of which are diuretics that increase the need to urinate, thus elevating the risks of dehydration, while also raising blood pressure.12
  • Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol increases dehydration in the body which, especially during a long-distance journey, can have a negative effect on blood flow. Alcohol reduces vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone that has a direct effect on how much water the body holds.13
  • Take frequent breaks to move. As we have previously stated, immobility appears to be one of the main factors in the risk of vein disease when traveling. Whenever possible, stand up and move around or walk.
  • Choose your clothing sensibly. Try not to wear too many layers, which could lead to raised temperatures and unnecessary sweating, and avoid tight-fitting clothing, socks, and shoes to help the blood circulation in your lower extremities.
  • Consult your doctor about any venoactive medication. There are different possible treatments according to the seriousness of chronic venous disease. Before you plan a long-distance trip, it is absolutely essential to consult a specialist and follow the best course of treatment for your own individual case. You might want to consider the use of venoactive drugs which can effectively prevent the progression of chronic venous insufficiency thanks to their venous anti-inflammatory and venoprotective actions.14

Young people can also suffer from venous insufficiency, and factors other than traveling, such as  can also have an impact on the progression of venous disease.


  1. Blood Clots and Travel: What You Need to Know | CDC. (2022, June 1). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/blood-clots/risk-factors/travel.html
  2. Frequent travel is damaging to health and wellbeing, according to new study. (n.d.). ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150803212554.htm
  3. Brand FN, Dannenberg AL, Abbott RD, Kannel WB. The epidemiology of varicose veins: the Framingham Study. Am J Prev Med. 1988 Mar-Apr;4(2):96-101, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3395496/
  4. Clark, Stephanie L; Onida, Sarah; Davies, Alun (2017). Long-haul travel and venous thrombosis: What is the evidence?. Phlebology, (), 026835551771742, from https://sci-hub.hkvisa.net/10.1177/0268355517717423
  5. G, Schellack & Schellack, Natalie & A, Agyepong-Yeboah. (2013). Air travel and the risk of venous thromboembolism. South African pharmaceutical journal. Suid-Afrikaanse tydskrif vir apteekwese. 80. 23-27
  6. Study results released on travel and blood clots. (2007, June 29). Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news/item/29-06-2007-study-results-released-on-travel-and-blood-clots
  7. Watso JC, Farquhar WB. Hydration Status and Cardiovascular Function. 2019 Aug 11;11(8):1866. PMCID: PMC6723555, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723555/
  8. Travel and Thrombosis. (2020, February 28). The Perth Blood Institute Limited. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.pbi.org.au/travel-thrombosis
  9. Krasiński Z, Chou A, Stępak H. COVID-19, long flights, and deep vein thrombosis: What we know so far. Cardiol J. 2021;28(6):941-953.
  10. Clarke M, Hopewell S, Juszczak E, Eisinga A, Kjeldstrøm M. Compression stockings for preventing deep vein thrombosis in airline passengers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Apr 19;(2):CD004002, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16625594/
  11. Nakamura, Yumi; Watanabe, Hiroshi; Tanaka, Aiko; Yasui, Masato; Nishihira, Jun; Murayama, Norihito (2020). Effect of Increased Daily Water Intake and Hydration on Health in Japanese Adults. Nutrients, 12(4), 1191, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7231288/
  12. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/caffeine.html
  13. Harper, Kathryn M.; Knapp, Darin J.; Criswell, Hugh E.; Breese, George R. (2018). Vasopressin and alcohol: a multifaceted relationship. Psychopharmacology, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30392132/
  14. Adapted from Nicolaides A, Kakkos S, Baekgaard N, et al. Management of chronic venous disorders of the lower limbs. Guidelines according to scientific evidence. Part I. Int Angiol. 2018;37(3):181-254.1