This question came up after my uncle’s recent trip to California after just retiring from the New York City MTA. In the week following his retirement, he had a loss of balance, caught himself stepping forward, which resulted in him straining his calf muscle. After this occurred, he saw an orthopedist who told him to walk on crutches and said that he would feel better within 5 to 10 days.
During that time, the strain progressively started giving him more and more trouble. This got even worse after his long plane ride to California. At that point, I received a text from him trying to figure out what he could do to lessen the pain while he was away. After a long discussion, I told him it sounded like he just overdid it, walking too close to the time of the injury.
However, the only thing that did sound a little strange is the way he reported pain; it seemed a bit more extreme than a simple muscle strain. After thinking about his trip on the airplane, I brought up the possibility of a blood clot or DVT. I told him I wasn’t sure, but didn’t want him to wait until he returned home. After contacting his orthopedist in New York City and mentioning the details of what had occurred since he had been seen, he thought it would be a good idea to make sure that condition wasn’t related to a possible clot.
Within 24 hours of my conversation with my uncle, he was diagnosed with a blood clot, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), in his calf using a Doppler ultrasound. He was immediately placed on blood thinners for three months and would receive another ultrasound in 4 to 6 weeks to see how the clot appeared.
I got lucky in catching this dangerous problem, but he did have one of the things that can trigger a blood clot: a long plane or car ride of greater than an hour. The scary part is blood clots or DVTs can occur without signs or symptoms.
Here are my general recommendations to decrease the risk of blood clots when traveling:
Wear loose clothing
Stop every hour to move around
Do ankle pumps for 5 minutes every hour you are traveling
Eat less salt
Wear compression stockings
See the following link from the US Department of Health and Human Services: https://www.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/prevention/disease/bloodclots.html#preventing.