What to Know About DVT and Exercise

If you have deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or know someone who does, it's important to know that DVT doesn't make exercise a bad thing.

It's true that a blood clot can break away and travel to your lungs. Doctors call that a pulmonary embolism (PE). So it's no wonder that people with DVT might worry that exercise could shake their clot free. The truth is that if you have DVT, getting up and going can do you a lot of good.

The Importance of Exercise if You Have DVT

Exercise is important for people with DVT because it helps circulation and eases symptoms of something called venous insufficiency. That's a condition in which blood doesn't flow well back to your heart. Aerobic activity -- things like walking, hiking, swimming, dancing, and jogging -- can also help your lungs work better after a pulmonary embolism.

Studies show that exercise also can improve symptoms of DVT, including swelling, discomfort, and redness. Physical activity can also make you feel more energized.

If you have DVT, being active is especially important for your legs. That's where blood clots usually form. Your blood has to flow uphill from your legs to your heart. Strong muscles in your legs help squeeze veins to push that blood upward. Anything that slows that flow -- an injury, a surgery that lays you up for a while, weakness in leg muscles, or inactivity -- can contribute to a clot.

What You Can Do

First, check with your doctor to find out which exercises you can do and when you should do them. For most people, walking or taking care of some housework are fine right after you find out you have DVT. It's also OK right after a pulmonary embolism.

Your doctor may prescribe a blood thinner -- they may call it an anticoagulant -- and compression stockings. Those help blood flow in your legs. If you start blood thinners, studies show that walking is safe as soon as your medicine begins to work. Check with your doctor, though.

Starting out slowly is best. Here's one routine you can try:

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Week 1: Walk for 5 minutes at a comfortable pace, 3-4 times per day.

Week 2: Walk for 10 minutes, 3-4 times per day.

Week 3: Walk for 20 minutes, 3 times per day.

Week 4: Walk for 30 minutes, 2 times per day.

Week 5: Walk for 40 minutes, once a day.

Warm up by walking slowly for 5 minutes. Cool down the same way.

If you're stuck sitting for a long time -- like in a plane or a car for 4 or more hours -- getting up and walking for 5 minutes each hour helps prevent another bout of DVT.

Remember not to cross your legs when you sit. It interferes with circulation. You can also do the exercises below while you're sitting:

Ankle pumps: With your heel on the ground, move your toes toward your shin. Repeat with your other foot.

Leg extension: With your thigh on the seat, lift your lower leg until it's roughly parallel with the ground, then slowly return it to the floor. Repeat with the other leg.

Seated march: Lift your knee up toward your chest, return your foot to the floor, then do the same with your opposite leg.

Shoot for 30 repetitions of each exercise every hour.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on April 18, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Circulation: "A Patient’s Guide to Recovery After Deep Vein Thrombosis or Pulmonary Embolism."

CDC: "What is Venous Thromboembolism?

Society for Vascular Surgery: "Deep Vein Thrombosis."

CDC: "Data and Statistics on Venous Thromboembolism."

National Blood Clot Alliance: "Blood Clot FAQs -- Follow-Up Care."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Chronic Venous Insufficiency."

World Journal of Cardiology: "Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Deep vein thrombosis."

North American Thrombosis Forum: "DVT: Guidelines for Activity and Exercise."

National Blood Clot Alliance: "Blood Clot FAQs -- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism Follow Up Care."

North Carolina Blood Research Center: "How Long After My Clot Can I Resume Physical Activities?"

Cleveland Clinic: "Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Management and Treatment."

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Graduated compression stockings for prevention of deep vein thrombosis."

Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis: "Guidance for the treatment of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism."

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