5 Tips for Flying Pain-Free Flying

Updated on June 11, 2017

Sarah CancillerBy Sarah Canciller

If you’re planning a trip this summer, you’re hopefully doing so for rest and relaxation. However, the journey to R&R can often be painful. Airplanes are notorious for cramped space and long periods of uncomfortable sitting. As a result, I typically see a surge in patients suffering aches and pains during peak travel season, especially among baby boomers/senior patients and those recovering from recent surgeries.

Sitting for long periods at a time before and during a flight coupled with poor posture puts you at risk of cramped muscles and reduced blood flow. Staying mindful of your travel habits and practicing a few exercises will go a long way in preventing injury. If you’re planning on traveling, practice these easy tips to stay comfortable during your flight and arrive at your destination relaxed and refreshed: 

  1. Bringing a neck pillow? Turn it around: Neck pillows put your head in a forward position, leading to an unnatural curve of the spine, which can result in neck pain. Instead, try putting your pillow in front of your neck and resting your head on its side to maintain good posture.  If you’re prone to back pain, you can also place a rolled up towel or blanket behind your lower back to encourage a “neutral spine” position while seated. 
  2. Dress down: The airport is full of people traveling in business attire, but restrictive clothing also restricts joint movement. If possible, wear loose fitting clothing and change when you arrive at your destination. Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes will also encourage you to move around more pre-flight.
  3. Choose an aisle seat: You may prefer the view a window seat offers, but sitting by an aisle allows you to stretch your legs from time to time. Even though you can’t stay in that position without the risk of being a trip hazard, the ability to straighten your knees even a little can provide much-needed relief and help ease any muscle cramping.
  4. Shop for souvenirs: The time you spend sedentary during a flight is exacerbated by the time you spend sitting around and waiting for the flight. As you wait, get up and walk around as much as possible, especially if there is a delay. This encourages blood flow and will reduce aches and pain that are caused by stiff joints.
  5. Use the right luggage: As you make your way through the airport, use rolling luggage whenever possible to avoid straining your back and potentially straining a muscle. If rolling luggage isn’t an option, carts are available to help transport heavy luggage through terminals. When you do have to lift, remember to do so with your legs while your feet are firmly balanced on the ground.

The most important factor in preventing travel-related injury is avoiding the temptation of staying in one place for too long. Train yourself to actively look for opportunities to be active rather than looking for opportunities to sit down or rest. Flying can be an uncomfortable and stressful experience, but taking precautionary steps and staying aware of common pitfalls will ensure you arrive at your destination pain-free. 


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