Summer is almost upon us, which means many wonderful trips to amazing places – by land, by sea, and often, by air.
As we all know, traveling on a plane can be quite taxing on the body. The seats are not the most complementary to the spine, and no matter your fitness level, being stuck on a plane for long periods of time with immobile legs poses a health threat. When you’re crammed into a tiny airplane seat, your body has a hard time pumping blood from your legs back to your heart to keep it circulating. On the flip side, when you’re up and walking around, your calf muscles effectively work to pump blood back to your heart.
Mobility is always one of the keys to a healthy life, and it’s especially important on a plane because the stagnant positioning can cause blood to pool in your legs, upping your risk of a blood clot, something called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). It is always a concern to doctors that these clots will break off and travel to your lungs where, worst-case-scenario, they could cause a pulmonary embolism.
Now, don’t panic! There are a lot of people who frequently take flights longer than four hours and don’t have any issues. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),more than 300 million people take four hour-plus flights every year, and the risk of DVT is “very small.” Nonetheless, there are preventative measures you can and should take to minimize your risk – and help preserve your general health and wellbeing during travel.
From a chiropractic standpoint, the lack of movement and the ergonomics of plane seating can wreak havoc on your spine, limbs, and nervous system. Sitting for long periods of time can put pressure on certain parts of your body, which can elicit responses like neck, mid-back and lower back pain. These sensations can also progressively get worse, to the point that some may feel numbness and tingling in the neck or lower back or even sciatic pain down the legs.
Don’t let travel knock your body out of whack! Here are five helpful tips to keep your body on track and healthy during a flight:
Book the aisle seat
Not only does the aisle position allow you stretch your legs, but it also causes you to get up more when the other people in your row need to stand or use the restroom. When we sit in the window seat on a plane, we tend to sit still for longer periods of time.
Stretch your legs
Do simple stretches during your flight, like flexing and relaxing your calf muscles and feet, rolling your ankles, and clenching and spreading out your toes. These can all help get the blood flowing without you needing to leave your seat.
Walk once an hour
Unfortunately, there is no golden ratio for how much time you need to spend moving around to cut your risk of DVT. Generally speaking, strolling the aisles once an hour will help loosen up your body and just make you feel better.
Spinal movement exercises
When you are up and moving around the cabin, do some basic range of motion exercises like bending downwards and touching your toes, or leaning backwards to stretch out the lumbar spine. You can also twist right and left and lean side to side to help stretch out your whole lower back.
Neck and lower back support
Depending on the length of your flight, your airline may provide pillows and a blanket. Now obviously the pillows they give us are far from the best, but they can be useful to help take pressure off your spine and nervous system. Try putting it in the arch of your lower back to provide some support for your lower back (or even invest in a lumbar support if you want more stability).
I would also suggest getting an ergonomically friendly neck pillow; be sure to try several different types first to see which will be the best fit for you.
And when you touch back down in the Windy City, come drop by our offices! Traveling puts a ton of stress on our bodies and minds, and chiropractic tune-ups are fantastic for helping seasoned travelers avoid built-up issues.
– Dr. Matthew Ray