Preventing Travel-Related Blood Clots

Medically Reviewed

Q. Now that I’m retired, I’m planning to travel—but I’m worried about a blood clot forming in my leg during long trips. How can I prevent one?

A. Although the chances of developing a blood clot, or venous thromboembolism, are very low, there is a small increased risk in certain people who spend long periods sitting in planes or cars, with the risk continuing for several weeks after travel is completed.

People with the highest chance of developing a blood clot tend to have at least one risk factor, such as advanced age, recent hip or knee surgery, cancer or recent treatment for a malignancy, obesity, inherited thrombophilia (a condition in which the blood easily clots), or a previous blood clot.

Although experts are unsure exactly why certain people develop blood clots while traveling, likely factors include reduced blood flow from the legs back to the heart as a result of long periods of sitting as well as increased blood coagulation activity (in the case of air travel).

You can reduce your chance of a blood clot by making sure your legs aren’t immobile for too long. Stand up often during a flight to activate your calf muscles. If you can’t stand up, try pulling each knee up toward your chest and holding that position for 15 seconds, then repeating it multiple times.

If traveling by car, pull off the road regularly and stretch your legs. If you have venous thromboembolism risk factors, talk with your doctor about wearing compression stockings to be more comfortable and reduce your risk.

And be alert to blood clot symptoms. If you experience any swelling, redness, warmth, or pain in an arm or a leg, seek immediate medical care.