Air travel can be a challenge anytime you do not feel well. Long periods of sitting on a plane or in a car followed by miles of walking on marble museum floors or uneven hiking trails can exacerbate virtually any pain. Because they bear your body weight, ankle swelling needs to be treated carefully to avoid damage or worsening symptoms during your trip.
A swollen ankle may have many causes, from a simple sprain to heart failure. Anytime your ankle swells unexpectedly, it is important to see a doctor right away for proper diagnosis. Even if swollen ankles are common for you, check with your doctor if your ankle swells before a trip. He or she can provide proper medication and treatment aids such as a wrap, cast or crutches.
If you are traveling with someone else, let that person do the driving. Sitting in one position and repeatedly using your foot to accelerate or brake can worsen the pain and swelling. Sit in the front passenger seat with the seat pushed back as far as possible. Use a suitcase or backpack to prop up your foot. Do be sure that your seatbelt is still effective, though. If you must drive, position the seat so that you need not use too much force. Stop driving every two hours or so, get out of the car and walk around.
Cabin pressure and tight seating can make a coach class flight extremely uncomfortable even for those without swollen ankles. In addition, deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots in the leg, has been associated with flying. Get clearance from your doctor before flying with a swollen ankle. If you are cleared to fly, minimize further swelling by frequently leaving your seat to walk around. Drink plenty of water or other clear fluids throughout the flight. Ask your doctor if you should take a low-dose aspirin to keep your blood platelets thin.
Walking on a swollen ankle can be excruciating. Ask your doctor for a prescription for pain medication or recommendations for over-the-counter solutions. Slow down your normal pace. Take frequent rest breaks and stop the day’s touring if the swelling worsens. Elevate your foot when sitting down and use an ice pack if possible.
Ace bandages and ankle braces are sold at any pharmacy. Wrapping your ankle may help to decrease the swelling and pain associated with a minor injury, as well as providing additional support. You can also wear compression socks or compression stockings to increase blood circulation to the area and lessen foot swelling. These work by increasing the blood flow to the lower legs and calf muscles when they’re not moving around for long periods of time and decreasing excess fluid that can build up and cause that leg pain when doing a long-haul travel day. This fluid retention can also be exacerbated by eating salty foods or salty snacks, so be sure to limit those when traveling or on a long flights if you have problems with poor circulation, be mindful of hydration, and wear compression stockings as well to round out your foot care!
Other things your orthopedic doctor or podiatrist may recommend are a cane or walking stick can help take some of the pressure off of your ankle and help bear some of your weight. These will also help if your swollen ankle is due to a sprained ankle. Mobility scooters are available for rent at many tourist attractions and medical supply shops and are great if you want to avoid further medical attention that would come from not keeping your legs up. If your swollen ankle makes walking painful, consider renting a scooter or wheelchair.