Trucker MD
From leg swelling to flu shots

By John McElligot, MD

I frequently get swelling in my legs when I’m truck driving. Why is that happening? My doctor says I should have TED stockings. What are they and do I really have to do that?

Swelling and excess fluid buildup in your legs, ankles and feet can be caused by a number of physical conditions, but let’s narrow that down to your job as a trucker. It’s a common condition found in all travelers, but is more prevalent in truckers since they are the quintessential travelers.

In most cases, swelling of the legs in truck drivers is because of a physiological phenomenon that has to do with living on the planet Earth and gravity. Say you truck 600 miles a day. While you are in the seat, your legs are in a dependent position – positioned well below the heart.

This may sound complicated to you, but the venous valves that control venous blood flow back to the major vein of the body are dependent on muscle pumps to propel blood in an upward direction to the main venous system. Sometimes those pumps are incompetent.

Another cause of swelling can be venous stasis in individuals who have varicose veins.

Both of the above conditions can be treated with TED stockings in addition to walking and drinking water. TED hose are thromboembolic deterrent hose. You may think “I’m not wearing those; my great-grandma wears them.” She may indeed, but so do a lot of athletes. Athletes use TEDs to prevent deep tissues strains and minimize bruising or blood clots.

Get over yourself and buy a pair at Walgreens or plenty of other places.

Swelling of the legs can also indicate signs of hypertension, sleep apnea and diabetes. This usually occurs in one leg, not both.

I want to recommend one more thing you can do to prevent swelling, not only of the lower extremities but of the face and hands: Avoid too much salt. The mechanism of action for salt intake is lengthy, but my experience is that the average truck driver consumes 10,000 to 15,000 milligrams of salt a day when the upper limits of the body’s needs are 3,000 mg per day. Watch that salt.

It’s flu season again. I need to get a flu shot, but my wife and others say getting a flu shot actually gives you the flu. I say it doesn’t. Who is right?

You are correct. The self-proclaimed “experts” will tell you that it gives you the flu, and I’m here to tell you that they are dead wrong. The flu can be a devastating, incapacitating and fatal illness. The side effects of the shot are very minimal and are localized to the area of the injection. Occasionally individuals have aches and discomfort, which is usually treatable by over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. Some vaccines are made using eggs. If you are allergic to eggs, check into an alternative vaccine.

I never argue with people who do not want to take it. However, if you ever have the flu – and I mean the real flu, not just a cold – it’s likely you will never miss another flu shot. The real flu is incapacitating. LL

John McElligott is an MD, Fellow of the American College of Physicians, and medical director of the St. Christopher Truckers Development and Relief Fund. This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Land Line Magazine or its publisher.