Flying or traveling isn't really the problem; it's the hours of inactivity in a seated position required during traveling that can lead to blood clots forming in the legs. These clots can lead to strokes or other conditions that can be fatal. In one high-profile case, NBC journalist David Bloom died at the age of 39 in 2003 while embedded with American military forces during the war in Iraq. His VTE was caused sitting in a tank for long periods during the invasion of Baghdad.
VTE isn't the only risk. In the past decade, more and more hospitals have adopted mobility guidelines built around the premise that patients should move around daily.
Among the first to experience the benefits of this new outlook were heart surgery patients, who before that time had recuperated lying flat on their backs. They suffered a litany of negative side effects from being immobile, including muscular atrophy, bedsores and reduced mental acuity. Physicians found a marked improvement in these patients' recovery once they got out of bed and on their feet.
Some patients have misinterpreted this effort as a rush to get them out of the hospital, but patients benefit the most when they are able to get up and move around as soon after surgery as possible.
Dr. David Aiken, an orthopedist at East Jefferson General Hospital, has seen firsthand the difference mobility makes. "Patients significantly reduce their risks of complications, falls and other setbacks — particularly older patients," he says. "The benefits are real and quite pronounced." And not just in patients who are hospitalized.
In a recent pain-management study at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle, two groups of back pain patients were given distinct orders regarding their recuperation. The first group was told to resume normal activities once their pain decreased enough to allow it; the second group was given a deadline for resuming normal activities. Almost 100 percent of the second group was recovered by the end of the study, while two-thirds of the first group were not.
Even worse, the longer a patient allows pain to keep him or her resting on the couch, the more the pain is amplified. That can lead to a chronic disability caused as much by lack of movement as the original source of the pain.
It's important to be active, even when recovering from an injury or surgery. It may hurt at first, but your mind and body will benefit greatly.