A deep vein thrombosis defines a blood clot that develops deep in a vein, most commonly in the calf, the thigh, and the groin. In many situations, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or other types of blood clots are caused by long periods of immobility - long flights or road trips, or simply lack of exercise.
Lack of mobility causes the blood to become sluggish and slow down as it travels through the arteries and veins. This causes pooling, which is a prime scenario for blood clots to develop.
But what if you’ve already experienced a DVT? Is it okay to walk or exercise? Will doing so increase the risk of a pulmonary embolism (PE) or other dangers?
Exercising with DVT
First of all, your physician will determine, through diagnostics, what caused the blood clot in the first place. Was it a genetic or hereditary cause? Do you have other comorbidity factors such as heart disease, diabetes, morbid obesity, paralysis, or some other medical condition that can contribute to increased risk of blood clot development?
For some, a DVT can occur in an otherwise healthy individual who exercises regularly. In such cases, DVTs are most commonly caused by forced inactivity such as international flights or long road trips. In such cases, getting up to walk around and get the blood flowing every hour or so is extremely beneficial.
For someone who has experienced a DVT, traditional treatments have focused on anticoagulation or medication therapy to thin the blood, combined with bedrest. The concern is that a DVT can break off from its point of origin and travel through the blood vessels, potentially traveling all the way to the lungs where it causes a pulmonary embolism (PE). Some physicians believe that immobility or bedrest reduces localized pain and swelling, but on the other end of the spectrum, it doesn’t do anything about sluggish blood flow.
A number of scientific studies and clinical trials have determined that post-DVT ambulation or walking doesn’t increase the risk of pulmonary embolism, but every case is different. Age, overall physical condition, and contributing factors all fall into recommendations to either take it easy or to get moving. One particular study determined that different scenarios recommend different treatments including the length of walking or ambulation for individuals, combined with compression (such as compression stockings), and bedrest until localized pain and swelling subside.
The study also examined DVT patients who experienced potential development or occurrence of new pulmonary embolism while on anticoagulation therapy. Some physicians recommend strict bed rest, others suggest beginning ambulation a day or two following diagnosis.
Opinions are mixed whether or not walking or exercise is good for DVT. As for prevention of blood clots, and for individuals who suspect or have been diagnosed with a DVT, consultation with your physician is highly recommended. Every situation is different, but studies suggest that early ambulation, along with anticoagulation therapy and compression, is safe when compared to strict bed rest.