Best spring/ summer travel survival tips for your back and legs

Updated on June 3, 2021

How to feel more refreshed and energized after
sitting for hours on a plane or in a car

As much as we look forward to a fabulous destination trip this spring/ summer, no one likes the thought being crammed into an uncomfortable airline seat for hours. Even long car trips can cause our back and legs to feel cramped and stiff. Physical therapist Robin Singer has some creative ideas the whole family can use to build in movement, utilize purposeful fidgeting and perhaps even burn a few calories as you travel to/from your summer vacation destination.

Kids may get restless, but for adults sitting for a long time may be downright dangerous

Your circulation slows when you’re just sitting. Over time, this can cause physical and mental fatigue. If you’re trapped in a sitting position too long, it’s easy to get just as fidgety and nervous as youngsters do when they can’t move around. After all, your energy must go somewhere.

The lack of blood flow to the lower limbs during a long flight in a tight sitting space can cause a blood clot to form with the coagulating blood. It can cause pain or in some cases (primarily in the elderly or health compromised individuals) can lead to death. (Notify the flight crew if you are having pain or swelling in your extremities, any shortness of breath or any other strange symptoms with a sudden onset.) Here are some simple suggestions for a healthier trip.

Arrive more refreshed and focused

“Promoting better circulation through movement improves overall health. Movement enables you to reach your destination feeling more refreshed than fatigued,” says Singer adding, “You also burn fewer calories when confined in an idle sitting position, and that’s not good for your waistline! Moving instead of sitting idle also relaxes you, boosts caloric output (burn more calories) and even improves brain function, concentration and memory!”  

Tips for building movement into your flight plans

Singer has easy tactics to help you become less confined during your next trip. These ideas will also help you make your travel healthier and safer.  

  • Ask for seats in the same row: “Walking along the aisle every hour or so can help to stretch your legs and keep the blood moving again. But many people are sometimes reluctant to inconvenience strangers. You may be more willing to get up and move around if other seats in your row are occupied by friends or family members.”
  • Bring your own travel foot rest: “Today, more travelers are using FootFidget Travel foot rest which allows for mild resistive movement to your legs that can stimulate your muscles and circulation, increasing blood flow in the feet, legs and core to improve comfort without fatigue. It also decreases low back pain. This foot rest fits conveniently in the space under the airplane seat in front of you (with room to spare). The FootFidget Travel Companion is quiet so you don’t disturb others nearby,” says Singer, who helped invent this high-quality, ergonomic device.
  • Drink plenty of water the days before, during and after your flight. “Proper hydration can help to reduce swollen feet and fatigue. Dehydration can cause you to become run down and make it easier to pick up viruses. Avoid consuming unnecessary amounts of sodium around the time you will be traveling. Sodium can dehydrate you and also make swelling more problematic,” reminds Singer. “Never board a plane without a beverage to rehydrate. Avoid alcohol and too much caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic and hastens your loss of fluids.”
  • Wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for walking long distances. “Slipping and falling in airports is quite common. Wear shoes that can loosen, in case your feet swell during your trip, and that can slip off for a little stretch if your feet or toes start to cramp. Wear socks (or take a pair with you in your carry-on) to keep feet warm on long flights.”
  • Dress in layers, if you’re flying. “Bring a light jacket or sweatshirt, and wear longer, loose plants because temperatures can vary wildly during a flight. The pants you wear on your flight can be almost as important as your shoes when it comes to your foot and leg comfort. Wear loose, breathable pants that allow for easy movement while keeping you warm. By not restricting your legs in tight or uncomfortable pants, you’ll keep blood flowing to your toes while also keeping the rest of your lower body nice and comfortable.”
  • Pack anti-bacterial wet-wipes in your carry-on: “Wipe down your arm rests, tray and any hard surfaces with an antibacterial wet wipe. Also wipe your hands when you’re done. You don’t know who sat there before you and if they were sick with the flu or a cold. Also, remember to wipe down your suitcase and carry-on handles after you’ve arrived at your destination (use the wet wipes). Nothing is worse than getting sick right after your vacation.”
  • Avoid using airline-furnished pillows and blankets. “They are often used multiple times and are loaded with germs and bacteria (if you must, find one that is still packaged in the safety wrap.) If you travel often or need to sleep on a flight, you should pick up your own pillow at a kiosk or travel store.”
  • Bring a small ball to rub away tension: “Slip in a small, dense ball like a golf ball or whiffle ball into your carry on. If your feet or legs start to cramp up mid-flight, roll the ball along the top of your thighs, or put it under your foot and roll it on the floor for a nice little foot massage. Keep those socks on as the floor surfaces of the airplanes are rarely cleaned. Never walk around the plane without your shoes on!”
  • Pack extra snacks: “Airline food is not usually plentiful even on long-haul flights and it’s important to stay well nourished. No need to overdo it, of course, but no one was ever sorry to find a couple pieces of fruit or granola bars in their carry-on. Remember to keep them low sodium!”

Singer reminds you to keep moving once you arrive at your destination. “In addition to burning some of those vacation calories and doing supporting good circulation, doing 20 to 30 minutes of walking will help keep your digestive system moving as it should, and the fresh air and sunshine will decrease the effects of jet lag. No one wants to feel sluggish and bloated while they are trying to have fun!”

One final tip is to use a private jet club, like Jettly.

Biography: Robin Singer, PT

Robin Singer has been a physical therapist since 1978, and has worked with people of all age groups from senior adults to preschool-aged children. Her past experience includes experience working in rehabilitation center(s), hospitals both inpatient and outpatient, and with seniors in a military retirement community. Her pediatric experience includes working for the Midwest Council for Children with Disabilities, Child and Family Connections (CFC of Illinois, 0-3yo population) as well as for the Barrington 220 School District in IllinoisIllinois (E.C. to H.S. age). She served as a physical therapist for the Greater Lawrence Educational Collaborative/Pentucket

Regional School District prior to launching FootFidget, LLC in 2010. Singer is co-owner and

inventor of FootFidget (products) and the Standing Desk Conversion Kit for schools.

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