Plane Pains — Spine and Leg Preventative Care for Airline Travel

With the upcoming holidays, many people will be taking long flights.  While air travel is safe, fast, and convenient, it can be stressful, both mentally and physically.  Flights are usually full, seats are smaller, and leg room is more restricted.   So to minimize discomfort and the possibility of illness and injury, we suggest the following strategies.


Try to keep your luggage and carry-on small and light.  Not only will you get through the airport quicker, you’ll be less likely to injury yourself by lifting heavy bags.

Pre-hydrate. The air in the cabin isn’t humidified very much, which can contribute to chapped lips, dry nasal passages, skin that feels papery, and an increased likelihood of blood clots.  Start drinking water at the gate.

Stretch to fight off aches and pains.  Perform these quick stretches for 30 seconds while waiting at the gate:

  • Standing calf stretch;
  • Heel to buttocks hip flexor stretch;
  • Fingers to toes hamstring stretch;
  • Seated twist back rotator stretch;

Take some deep breaths.  When you find out your flight is delayed – or worse -, it is easy to become stressed which can have a detrimental effect on your immune system and health.  Remind yourself to breathe deeply during stressful situations  – it will help calm your mind, lower your stress level,  and often help prevent a bad situation from getting worse.


On long flights we tend to remain seated for extended periods of time which can cause muscle stiffness and pain, and in susceptible individuals, prolonged periods of immobility can slow down blood flow in the leg veins.  This can lead to ankle swelling and, in predisposed individuals, increase the risk of blood clots to form inside the veins, known as Traveler’s Thrombosis.

Traveler’s Thrombosis manifests as pain and/or swelling in the legs during travel or even several days or weeks afterwards.  It can be a serious and, on occasion, a life-threatening situation if a clot breaks off and travels to the lungs causing what is called a pulmonary embolism.

  • Wear loose clothing (conversely, avoid tight, restrictive garments);
  • Place nothing under the seat in front of you, for more leg space;
  • Keep yourself hydrated by drinking water while minimizing alcohol, sugary and caffeinated beverages;
  • Try to stand as often as possible. Reach for the ceiling, for a good stretch. Continue your pre-flight stretches;
  • Stretch, and periodically exercise your feet and ankles while seated;
  • The muscle pump: squeeze your toes, then pump your ankles, squeeze your calves, tighten your quads, flex your butt in the seat; follow this sequencing to help return blood back to your heart;
  • Tummy tucks: sit up straight and engage your abdominals by sucking in your belly button;
  • Sit with a pillow or rolled up sweater behind your back for extra support;
  • March in your seat: hold a neutral posture with your abdominals engaged and march your legs.

Follow these easy steps and you’ll arrive health and happy. We at IWS wish you safe holiday travels!