Bailey Couret making the most of her flight to Dallas for a volleyball tournament

We’ve all been there. You’re cramped in a small seat not much bigger than the totality of your person. If you’re lucky, you have a window spot with a view. Or, if you’re a bit claustrophobic like me, you want the aisle for a little extra room. Depending on the flight, you could be there for the next hour or (audible gulp) what could be as long as 17 hours. (Did I Google longest flights available? Yes. Yes, I did.) Don’t forget to pack your neck pillow, your sleep mask, your noise-cancelling headphones and your Southshore Physical Therapy plan for the sky!

Human beings are not intended to sit still for such elongated periods of time. Without movement, the muscles and joints in our arms, legs, back and neck can all stiffen up and become sore. Our circulatory system is challenged, and swelling can occur in the legs and feet to the point that shoes removed during flight may not still fit when the plane lands. (I heard that story from “a friend,” by the way.)

To avoid these aches and pains (and be able to wear shoes!) at your destination, remember these helpful air travel stretching techniques.

  • Before boarding. Try to remain standing or even walking for as long as possible prior to getting on the plane. By keeping active, you are shortening the period of time that you are basically immobilized. (Think sardines.)
  • Shoulders. Roll your shoulders forward for three sets of five. Repeat pattern but, this time, roll your shoulders backward.
  • Back and shoulders. Leaning forward slightly, interlock your fingers behind your back, palms facing up, and straighten your elbows. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat three times.
  • Neck. The three maneuvers for this stretch can each be repeated five times. (1) Rotate head back and forth left to right. (2) Lower chin to chest then back up to neutral (straight ahead). (3) Tilt head to the left shoulder then to the right. 
  • Glutes. Tighten your glute muscles and hold for six seconds. Repeat ten times.
  • Hands and feet. Make fists with your fingers and toes. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat three times.
  • Pelvic Tilt. Press your lower back into the seat rounding the spine and tightening the abdominal muscles. Hold for six seconds. Repeat ten times.
  • Nervous flyer? Try the 4-7-8 deep breathing method: Inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold for seven then exhale though your mouth for eight. Repeat four times. By relaxing your mind, you will also be keeping your muscles loose and flexible.

This fitness routine should be repeated every 2-3 hours unless of course you manage to fall asleep on the plane. (Color me jealous.) So, set a timer on one of your devices or just check your watch from time to time. And always remember to stay hydrated. The repeated trips to the bathroom will also help to keep you moving. Safe travels, everyone!

by Michele Robert Poche

Professional Reference: Leland C. Couret, MPT, CSCS