The invention of flying (or more specifically the aeroplane) has been miscredited to Orvlle and Wilbur Wright for their work in 1903, however it was that year that the Orville Wright took flight on a powered glider- the first person to ever do so! I can imagine that flight now…
Ladies and… well, just Orville, please make sure your tray is in its full upright position and you have brought your seat back forward before we start take off. Please do not use any wifi devices until we are at cruising altitude. Our in-flight entertainment will be you sweating profusely and praying to GOD that you made all the correct calculations to bring this heap of junk off the ground.
While “inventing the first plane”, I’m sure the Wright brothers were not thinking about how much of a pain flying would be- especially not for passengers who fly for hours at a time multiple times a year.
Why is flying such a pain?
Let’s start at the very beginning, Standing in line for 15, 20, sometimes 45 minutes at a time and can only shift your weight or move your feet an inch at a time is no way to start your vacation. Airports and terminals are handicap accessible, but are definitely built for the young, able, and healthy individual- and even that population has no love loss for airports.
Once you jump through all the obnoxious hoops of JFK or LaGuardia check-in and security, the flight is no picnic either. Often times they board higher need groups first, which sounds like a plus, especially when trying to maneuver through the aisles or finding an overhead compartment for your carry-on- but the tradeoff is rough. Yes, you’re in your seat early, but now you must wait upwards of an hour to even start taxiing down the runway.
Ok, so you’ve sat in your seat for 50 minutes before even hitting the runway, and now you just finished your 2 and a half hour trip to Fort Lauderdale and will sit for another 40 minutes to get to your snowbird getaway in Boca Raton. That’s 4 hours of sitting and you will need at least a weekend for your back to feel like a back again. Why do we put ourselves through this? Escape from bad weather lands us with inescapable back pain! Is this the trade-off? Does this have to happen every December?
No it doesn’t. There are tips and tricks that can help you get through your 4 hours in a way that minimize the deleterious effects of air travel.
Before leaving for your expedition, think about packing light. Having heavy luggage to carry or maneuver could put an early end to that rock climbing session you had in mind. Also, try to not bring too much on the flight in your carry-on. Whether lifting it over your head to put in the overhead bin or storing it below and taking up your precious leg room, clunky luggage is never a smart move.
Keep your body moving: This is common knowledge but so many of us ignore it. Not related to age (not solely at least), but blood clots are real and really mess up a vacation by causing some fun-stopping pulmonary embolisms and, you know, death. Keep your body moving! Taking frequent breaks is great to stretch your spine and legs, but it also is great for your circulation (in your spine and in general). Can’t get moving because you picked the window seat or maybe it’s a rocky flight? No problem, do some circulatory system exercises like progressive muscle contractions
Contract (squeeze) your muscles in your toes and hold for 3 seconds and release. Now move to the area above that, like your feet, and contract your muscles for 3 seconds and release. Keep moving up the body to the head. Bonus points: This is very similar to progressive muscle relaxation which helps to reduce stress and bring calmness to your body.
Stay hydrated: your blood viscosity (thickness) is related to the amount of fluid in the body. If you are dehydrated, your circulatory system will not be running at maximum ability and thus areas that would be receiving an otherwise great supply of oxygen rich blood will be suboptimal. Decreased blood flow is a main component of the pain cycle, don’t make things worse by keeping your cells thirsty.
Warning: You’re gonna hate having that window seat if you drink water the whole flight 🙂
Posture: holding one position for a long time is not a great idea no matter the posture, but if you have to choose, choose a safer one. Sit with your lower back in a natural inward curve (called lordosis) by putting a small pillow behind your low back. Using a neck pillow is also a great idea as your spine will be in less stress if your head is supported in good posture as well. Along with this tip is to avoid any plane activities that require you to be hunched forward (sorry knitters/crocheters)
Laugh: My papa used to always say laughter is a contributing factor of longevity. Laughter helps to release natural hormones in the body (called endogenous opioids) which helps to reduce stress, decrease pain, and increase blood flow. So yea, I know you want to watch that WWI biopic that is got an Oscar nod, but maybe the goofy Rom-Com is the better choice to get you to your destination with a smile on your face.
So the next time you’re booking your trip for your west coast week with the fam, taking in the sun in the Caribbean, or you’re finally going to see the lush hills of the Amalfi Coast- be mindful of your in-flight obstacles and keep your spine healthy with the above tips.
And now, a joke…
Did you hear the joke about the Wright brothers’ flight?
Never mind, it’ll go over your head
(((laugh track intensifies)))
Dr. Daniel Davids PT