Slip ons like these are great for the airport, but switch to lace up sneakers once you get on the plane

As we approach the holidays, many of us may be heading back to Houston Hobby or IAH. These days, there are so many things that can ruin a trip through the airport. Mass cancellations are a major problem. So are, flight delays, backed up security lines…I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes just reading this short list. I feel your pain.

Now, while many of the ills of air travel are, unavoidable, there is one problem you can take action to prevent. And that's mid-and-post-flight foot pain. A major concern for travellers, especially if you haven't hit the friendly skies for a while.

Causes of Foot Pain on an Airplane

There are many reasons that air travel can make your feet hurt, but the top two reasons are:

  1. Long walks between terminals while lugging heavy baggage.
  2. Long periods of time spent sitting. This gets worse when you're stuck with knees bent and feet on the floor. Because all the blood in your body pools in your swiftly-swelling feet (aka gravitational edema.)

Let's take a closer look at each of these problems. First, all that walking through the terminal. As a frequent traveler myself, I'm no stranger to this concern. My heel pain often acts up when I'm on the go in the airport. (Especially if I'm late for a connecting flight.)

Here's why. When I'm flying, I want to wear shoes that slip on and off easily. Because that speeds things up in the security line, when I have to take off my shoes. But that means my shoes are often less supportive than sneakers. So, when I rush walk--and add in the pressure of a heavy carry-on bag--I can trigger inflammation in my Achilles tendon and plantar fascia. And that combination adds up to a big pain in my foot, that needs to be addressed as soon as I get home.

Now, let's talk about problem number two: swelling. When you're stuck on a long flight, and you don't move around, pooling blood creates swelling. This can be painful, and it can also raise your risk for a blood clot. While it's sometimes possible to flex and stretch your feet, or get up and walk, you still may face problems if you don't follow our 5 rules for safer air travel.


Protect Your Feet from In-Flight Discomfort

Want to leave foot pain behind as you head up in the air? Of course you do, so I'm here to help. Follow these five simple rules for your feet, and you should feel much better at landing time.

1. Choose supportive shoes with a little (but not too much) give.

Just like on land, it’s important to have shoes that support your arches and allow your feet to breathe. And that importance increases when you’re in the air. Because you want your feet to have enough room to swell a little, but enough support to keep the swelling in check. What kind of shoes work best? Sneakers and tennis shoes are both great options. But the main rule to keep in mind is that your shoes should have enough room in the toe box to allow your toes to wiggle, even when your socks are on. You may also experiment with looser lacing techniques, to give your feet a bit more breathing and expanding room.

2. Keep your shoes on your feet.

Unless you're going through the x-ray machine, I want your shoes to stay firmly in place. There are so many reasons why this is important (hello, smells?!?) But the key purposes for keeping your shoes on are to protect your feet from germs and all the other gross stuff that accumulates on airplane floors. Plus, it also helps keep your feet from swelling too much (see rule no. 1 for review.)

3. Rock your socks.

Socks can also help in the fight against foot swelling. (Especially if they are compression or supportive knee socks.) They can also help regulate your body temperature. And that can keep your feet from getting too cold, or so wet and clammy that they become a breeding ground for athletes foot.

4. Forget the flip-flops. 

These flimsy shoes do allow your feet to breathe. And they're easy to remove before you go through security. But they offer zero foot support and zero protection from potential hazards like dropped bags and rolling beverage carts. So leave them in the suitcase for pool and beach visits only! Oh, and ladies? There's one other pair of shoes to leave in checked bags: your high heels. They're unstable, they pinch your feet, and they're going to exacerbate all the main foot concerns associated with flying. Not convinced yet? Consider this. Pilots and flight attendant consider stilettos heels to be death traps. Because they can make you trip and fall in an emergency. Or, even if you escape a plane crash, they can puncture an inflatable slide or raft, putting many lives in danger.

5. Pack an extra pair.

Sure, sneakers are awesome for in-flight purposes. But like I hinted at before, they can be a pain to tie and un-tie while you’re rushing through security checkpoints. Simple solution? Choose a supportive slip on shoe for the airport part of your travel plans. Then, pack a pair of plane-perfect kicks in your carry-on. That way, you can change into them once you've made it through security. And your feet will be supported and ready to breathe once you hit the seat in the airplane!

If travel has your foot pain a constant problem, it's time to get it checked. Contact Houston podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider for an immediate appointment. Comfort is around the corner!

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.