Avoiding Blood Clots When Flying

Important medical advice if you're boarding a plane after racing.

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Dan asks: In September, I'm running my first marathon in New York. The very next day, I'm flying to Mexico. My wife seems to think flying after the race may be a problem. Any advice?

After a long run or race, being inactive—as you are when sitting on a plane—can commonly cause muscle stiffness and soreness. But your wife's big concern may be deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that develops in the deep vein of the leg. This can be serious if the clot breaks off and travels to the lung. Medical experts think that prolonged sitting seems to increase the risk, and the trauma to the leg cells after a marathon may also make you more prone to clotting. That said, many runners fly from destination marathons like New York City, Chicago, Boston, and London every year without a problem.

So what can you do—beyond postponing your trip?

  • Stay hydrated. Drink so that your urine looks like lemonade, not apple juice.
  • Move around as much as you can on the plane. Tap your heels and your toes and get up out of your seat and walk around every half hour. If you keep moving during your flight, you may also decrease your risk of muscle tightness and soreness.
  • Wear knee-high compression socks to reduce leg swelling.
  • Avoid alcohol on the flight as alcohol is suspected to increase your risk.
  • This may not be of concern to you personally, but women using estrogen contraceptives are at a greater risk of clotting.

    If you get pain in your calf or chest with trouble breathing after your flight, seek medical attention immediately.

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