There is evidence that long-haul flights lasting more than four hours can increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – a potentially life-threatening blood clot that forms in the veins of the leg.

How to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT) - Women's Health & Fitness

The risk of developing DVT on a long-haul flight is very slim (about one in 4,500), but the chance of experiencing muscle stiffness in cramped economy class conditions is almost guaranteed. “There really isn’t a comfortable way to sleep in neutral posture on an airplane unless you pay the big bucks,” says physiotherapist Jason Smith, founder of Back In Motion and author of Get Yourself Back In Motion.

Avoid sitting in the same position

“After sitting in the same position for more than an hour, the ligaments actually overstretch rather than flicking back like a rubber band,” says Smith. “This is called ligament creep, and it increases the risk of injury when you’re taking heavy things in and out of the overhead lockers.”

Sit ‘posturally neutral’

For maximum comfort, sit as ‘posturally neutral’ as you can, says Smith. “Have your bottom all the way back in the seat and your shoulder blades resting against the back of the seat. That generally means you need a small pillow or even a folded jumper in the small of your back to try and create the natural curve in the spine. Have your feet flat against the floor with your knees about two fists apart. If you’re short, have your feet on a briefcase or handbag.”


Do a couple of squats or calf raises

To reduce the effects of ligament creep and the risk of DVT, and avoid muscle stiffness, get out of your seat every hour – even if that means climbing awkwardly over your sleeping neighbour. “Walk the length of your aisle and when you’re at the back do a couple of calf raises or squats and arch your back,” says Smith. “You only have to be up out of your seat breaking the seated position for about two minutes.”


After disembarking:  Get out and walk, and be aware of any unusual leg discomfort or shortness of breath, which may indicate a blood clot.

Author: Angela Tufvesson; Photo credit: Thinkstock