Hit the Ground Running: Beating Swollen Ankles After a Flight

Written byRegenerative Travel
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Long flights are par for the course if you’re an avid world traveler. Most people have their go-to packing list memorized (not to worry if you don’t, you can check out our sustainable packing list here) and they’ve figured out how to pass through airport security with ease. But once you’re on the flight, there is little else to do but sit and wait to arrive.

This lengthy, unavoidable time spent stuck in your seat can contribute to uncomfortable swelling or soreness after a flight. Swollen ankles in particular are caused because you’ve been sitting for so long your body’s fluids sink to your feet. While this may sound alarming, it’s normally nothing to be worried about. The condition is officially called “gravitational edema,” and generally subsides within a few hours after leaving the plane. While not painful, it can certainly be annoying, especially if you’re traveling for business or have a packed itinerary. 

While some travelers may simply grin and bear it, there are ways to reduce the swelling both before and after your flight, allowing you to hit the ground running after you land.

Someone holds a block of ice
1. Cryotherapy

While not necessarily a traditional method to combat ankle swelling, cryotherapy has been gaining popularity in recent years as a general cure-all for the body’s aches and pains. As the name would suggest, cryotherapy exposes patients to extremely cold temperatures of -200 degrees Fahrenheit for around two to four minutes at a time. Patients can choose between whole-body treatments in which their entire body minus their head is exposed to the cold, or localized treatments that focus on one area of the body. Though it sounds like science fiction, the extreme temperatures are said to relieve muscle and joint pain, reduce inflammation, rejuvenate the skin, and increase blood circulation. 

Cryotherapy achieves this by forcing the body to try to adapt to the intense temperature change, causing the blood to flow to the body’s core and circulate more deeply. The blood becomes enriched with anti-inflammatory proteins, enzymes, and endorphins, which are then re-circulated throughout the body after the brief freezing period is over.

The treatment is also said to be helpful for beating jetlag, so if you’ve been experiencing inflammation or irritation after a flight and are trying to adjust to a new time zone, cryotherapy  might be right for you. 

Yoga is well known for reducing swelling after air travel
2. Yoga

The primary reason people experience swelling after a flight is because of the prolonged period of inactivity. The answer to this is exercise, both before and after the plane ride. Research suggests that people who are more active experience less swelling after a flight, and that walking or exercising in some way immediately after you land can help mitigate the swelling.

While walking is certainly an effective tool in this regard, yoga has the added benefit of allowing you to invert your body and elevate your feet—another commonly cited cure for swollen ankles. In particular, laying on the floor with your legs up the wall in front of you is the ideal pose to encourage reduced swelling and better circulation. If you experience any swelling in the hands or fingers, mountain pose with your hands high above your head can also relieve this condition. 

Regenerative Resorts has several yoga destinations that are perfect if you’re looking for deeper wellness or simply a place to unwind at the end of your journey.

3. Drink Water

It may seem counterintuitive, but hydrating before and during your flight can help mitigate issues with gravitational edema. Airplanes tend to be dry by nature; be sure to fill up a reusable water bottle so you don’t have to wait for the flight attendant to offer you a drink.

In addition to drinking water before and during your flight, try to avoid alcohol and excessively salty foods before you fly. These items tend to be inflammatory and will work against your hydrating efforts.

The reason it’s important to stay hydrated before and during your trip is because the body will hold on to excess fluids if it’s dehydrated, which makes any potential ankle swelling that much worse on arrival. If you’re in need of a trusty reusable water bottle, Larq water bottles are insulated and self-clean every 2 hours—ensuring you always have pure, filtered water no matter where your journey takes you.

4. Epsom Salts

If all else fails and you find yourself feeling inflamed or swollen after your flight, try soaking your feet in a soothing Epsom salt bath. Also called magnesium sulfate, Epsom salt is well known for relieving muscle soreness and reducing stress. It’s healing properties are most often used in baths, as the compound dissolves in water and releases magnesium and sulfate ions, which are absorbed by the skin.

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, but most people don’t consume enough of it. Epsom salt baths nourish the body while providing these missing minerals, not to mention a soothing soak after a long flight is sure to help relieve stress.

If you find yourself in need of a good soak, Cap Beauty’s Bath Soak Soothe by Vessel mixes Epsom salt, sea salt, and Himalyan salt for a holistic approach to healing, while aromatic lavender and calendula reduce inflammation. Whether you’re dealing with swollen ankles or not, take some time to put your feet up after your long journey. You’ve earned it.

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