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Travelling and your risk of Lymphoedema

Posted by Eqphysio on 29 October 2021
Travelling and your risk of Lymphoedema

With international borders reopening, many of us are thinking about and planning overseas holidays again!

Do you have lymphoedema or are at risk of lymphoedema?

If so, we have some advice for you on how to reduce your travel related risk factors that may exacerbate the condition. This may include wearing compression garments whilst flying.


What is Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is the accumulation of protein rich fluid in the tissues due to an impairment in the lymphatic system. Most commonly, patients will experience swelling, tightness, aching or reduced movement in the affected area.

Those at risk of developing lymphoedema include people who have undergone removal of lymph nodes or radiation therapy.

Triggers of Lymphoedema when Travelling

When travelling, it is important to know what may exacerbate existing symptoms or trigger the onset of lymphoedema.

These include:

  • Physical inactivity when flying which may reduce lymphatic flow and cause swelling

  • Low cabin pressure – this can change the pressure inside the tissues

  • Travel related factors e.g. carrying heavy luggage, change in normal exercise routines

  • Heavy shoulder bags/suitcases – bag straps can cause a tourniquet and impede lymphatic circulation, whilst heavy bags can increase muscle stress

  • Dehydration

Although there is no conclusive evidence to show that air travel or long trips cause lymphoedema, anecdotally, many people have experienced an increase in their swelling.


How to Minimise Risk of Travel Related Lymphoedema

Here are some precautions that you may consider to minimise your risk of travel related lymphoedema.

  • Exercise your at risk body part as much as you can during the flight within the confines of your seat

  • Try to move and walk every couple of hours even if it is just up and down the aisle

  • For people with lower extremity oedema, consider a seat with increased leg room

  • Practice deep breathing exercises regularly

  • Wear loose fitting, non-restrictive clothes

  • Stay hydrated

  • Consider using luggage on wheels rather than bags which need to be carried. This will reduce muscle strain and stress

  • If you have or are at risk of arm swelling, try to wear your shoulder bag on the opposite shoulder to your “at risk” side

  • Wear a compression garment when travelling

  • Pack items to protect your skin e.g. moisturiser, sunscreen, insect repellent, antiseptic cream – to reduce the risk of skin infection which will exacerbate lymphoedema


Compression Garments

Our Lymphoedema Therapists at Equilibrium Physiotherapy are trained to measure, prescribe and fit compression garments to reduce your chances of swelling.

Compression garments are recommended for people who have had lymph node surgery or radiotherapy. Compression garments should be worn on all long haul, international flights. Compression garments provide external pressure to the tissues which can help aid the resorption of lymph fluid and decrease fluid accumulation.

The type of compression garment required should be discussed with your lymphoedema therapist. There are many different styles, materials, sizes and levels of compression available. It is important to note that an ill-fitting compression garment may cause or exacerbate lymphoedema, so it is very important that they are prescribed by a trained therapist.

  • Garments should feel firm and supportive but not painful to wear

  • Ensure the garment is spread evenly and is smooth against the skin. There should not be any creases or wrinkles that may cause a tourniquet effect

  • Do not roll or fold down the garment top

  • Compression garments may need to be replaced regularly as they can wear out over time


Ideally, compression garments should be obtained well in advance of the trip. This will allow you to wear it several times prior to ensure proper fit and comfort.

During travel, we recommend garments are worn for a couple of hours prior to getting on the plane as well as a couple of hours after to allow for your tissue pressure to equilibrate.


If you think you may be at risk for lymphoedema or have existing swelling, it is important to be properly fitted for a compression garment by your lymphoedema therapist. Plan ahead so you can prepare yourself so that you are confident about how to self manage your lymphoedema or risk. You can find your local accredited lymphoedema therapist on the National Lymphoedema Practitioners Register (NLPR) website at Alternatively, contact us on 95538145 for more information or to book an appointment.



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