Here’s How to Prevent Aching Legs and Joints on Your Next Long Flight

A young woman with curly hair sits in a window seat on a plane. She has her earbuds in as she looks out of the window and smiles.

Flying conditions can create the perfect joint-pain recipe – cramped seating space, sitting in one position for hours, and swelling due to high altitude.

For that inevitable moment when discomfort strikes, Dr. Rock Positano, DPM, a director at the Non-Surgical Foot and Ankle Center associated with the New York Hospital for Special Surgery, spelled out three ways one can get active midflight and alleviate pain – even if you’re stuck in the middle seat.

Pump Your Feet

While sitting on the plane, pump your feet as if you’re pushing on a gas pedal to move blood out of the very vascular calf muscles, which are many times the site for DVT (deep vein thrombosis), says Dr. Positano.

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Talk a Walk

Every hour, Dr. Positano suggests getting out of your seat and walking to the back and front of the airplane to stretch the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the lower extremities – this includes from the feet and ankles to the lower back.

“The foot and ankle will naturally swell at higher altitudes,” he explains. If you have a preexisting injury, present swelling could increase midflight, causing tightness in the shoe and subsequent pain.

Do Figure Eights

Pretend there is a pen on the top of your big toe, and draw imaginary figure eights with your foot and ankle, instructs Dr. Positano. By doing this, you’re preventing stiffness in the ankle and foot joints, which can also help with your balance when you decide to stand up.

Bring Key Supplies

Just like you’d prepare to drown out noise with headphones and a Spotify playlist, there are tools that can help you get ahead of travel-induced body aches, too.

Carry-on space is always precious, but Doug Seckendorf, a chiropractor specialist affiliated with the New York Hospital for Special Surgery, suggests making room for TheraBands, a portable foam roller, and a pillow if you’re in need of head-to-toe aid.

TheraBands are great for stretching out shoulders, the lower torso, and hips, while foam rolling before boarding your flight addresses tightness in thighs, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Placing a pillow at the base of your spine during your travels can offer much-needed lower back support, too.

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