Over the past decade, airline seating has gotten more cramped, leaving travelers with less leg room and confined for hours in uncomfortable positions. Even those frequent travelers fortunate enough to sit in first or business class can suffer from fatigue, leg cramps, stiffness, and neck and back pain if they don’t stretch and move around during a flight.
Though airplanes don’t offer a designated stretching area — though we’d like to see that space added – there are several steps you can take to prevent aches, pains and fatigue while flying.
Keep your feet flat on the floor.
While seated, knees at a 90-degree angle or slightly higher, to relieve stress on your spine. Use a bag to rest your feet on if your seat’s too high to do this. Muscle cramping and aching can be exacerbated by dehydration; stay hydrated and avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine.
Bring an inflatable pillow to cushion against neck pain.
Back pain sufferers can roll a blanket or pillow into a lower back support, since airline seats don’t offer proper lumbar support.
Walk up and down the aisle at least once every hour.
No matter how comfortable a seat is, being immobilized will cause stiffness and fatigue.
Do the following simple exercises.
All of these movements can be done in your seat to prevent discomfort and swelling during flights:
Lift your feet off the floor and move your toes in a circle, one foot moving clockwise and the other foot moving counterclockwise. Change direction and repeat.
Place your heels on the floor and bring your toes up as high as you can. Then put both feet back flat on the floor. Then pull your heels up while keeping the balls of your feet on the floor.
While keeping your knee bent, raise your leg while tensing your thigh muscle. Repeat 20 to 30 times, alternating legs.
Raise your shoulders and then move them forward, downward and then backward in a smooth circular movement.
Start with your elbows on the armrests and your hands pointed forward so that your lower and upper arms make a 90-degree angle. Take turns moving your left and then your right hand toward your chest and back, and continue for 30 seconds.
Knee to chest.
Bend slightly forward. Fold your hands together around your left knee and pull it toward your chest. Hold this position for 15 seconds and let your knee drop slowly. Change legs and repeat.
Place both feet on the floor and pull your abdomen in. Bend slowly forward and “walk” your fingers along your shins to your ankles. Hold for 15 seconds and sit up slowly.
Stretch both arms over your head. With your right hand, grab your left wrist and pull it slowly to the right. Hold for 15 seconds and change arms.
With your right hand, grab your left elbow and pull your outstretched left arm slowly toward your right shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds and change arms.
Relax your shoulders, let your head drop to your right shoulder and roll your head slowly to the front and then to your left side. Repeat five times.
These stretches are also important for reducing the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), blood clots that can occur after periods of being immobile. The risk of DVT increases during travel of eight hours or more and an estimated 10 percent of passengers on long flights may develop a DVT.