“I met a man who lives in Tennessee; he was heading for Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie.”

Air travel has made going home for the holidays so much easier for many people. That is to say, it’s easier if you don’t mind paying the high prices, standing in line for security, taking off your shoes, packing everything in an overstuffed carry-on bag so you don’t have to pay for checked luggage, and sitting in a crowded airport for hours waiting for the plane. And, with any luck, there won’t be any delays for weather or mechanical issues. But, in spite of all its faults, flying gets us where we want to go quickly and safely.

Besides these inconveniences, flying can have other drawbacks as well. Everyone is susceptible to pain when sitting in a cramped airplane seat for too long. It can be even worse for someone who already deals with issues of chronic pain. If you’re concerned about pain while flying there are a few things you can do to alleviate or prevent excess pain during your air travels for the holidays.

Before you travel

The biggest trick to managing your pain while flying is to make several strategic decisions when planning the trip. When purchasing your tickets see if you can request a seat by the aisle and where you don’t have to climb over another traveler to stand up. Most airlines will offer you the option to select a seat based on a map of the cabin so take advantage of this feature. If you can afford the extra cost or you belong to a rewards membership program, don’t be afraid to upgrade to first class. Also, if you feel like you can help in an emergency, select an exit row seat so you have a little additional legroom while flying.

Depending on the length of your trip you may want to divide it up to keep your body a break from sitting in the cramped airplane seats. Schedule a layover where you can spend an hour or two at another airport to walk and stretch.

When packing for the trip think about the need to hoist your bag over your head in to the compartments. If you can’t lift a bag easily you may wish you check baggage so you don’t have to struggle once you’re boarding the airplane. Otherwise pack a lightweight bag that is easy to lift. Other passengers may also help you if they aren’t feeling the stress of holiday travel themselves.

Even if you pack a carry-on bag that needs to be stored in the overhead bins, you can also take one personal item. For women this is typically a purse or it may be a laptop case or other small bag. This is the bag where you should store all of the items that you wish to have direct access to during the flight. It will be kept under the seat in front of you so you will be able to utilize it during the trip. Pack your electronic entertainment or a book so you can reach it easily. You may also wish you have a bottle of water (purchased in the airport after security) and some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen that you can take if you feel mild pain while traveling.

Call the airline or check your flight information ahead of time online to make sure that everything is running smoothly. If you can minimize your wait in the airport you may avoid some additional pain while traveling.

At the airport

Plan to arrive several hours early for your flight so you don’t feel the need to rush through the airport. Take your time getting through security. Many people want to push through this experience too quickly and end up lifting their bags incorrectly which can twist and pull muscles that are already feeling the effects of a stressful environment. Be pleasant to those around you but don’t feel like you need to do everything at the speed of light.

When you get through security evaluate the airport layout. Where is your gate? Where is a good place to sit comfortably and relax while you wait for your plane? This will largely depend on the size of your airport in general. If you know where you’re going and when you need to be there it will make the walk through the airport less stressful in general. If you need help in the airport, be sure to talk to disability services before you get to your gate.

On the plane

Of course, the real test comes when you’re sitting on the airplane. For much of the trip you will be asked to remain in your seat with your seatbelt securely fastened. While seated you’re not going to be able to move very far but you can take advantage of some easy stretching exercises that will help keep your blood pumping and your muscles from getting stiff.

  • Ankles and feet: Stretch your ankles by lifting your feet off the floor and making circles with your toes. Change directions and try moving each foot in a different direction. Then move on to foot pumps by resting your heels on the floor and lifting your toes upward as high as they can go. Repeat this motion.
  • Legs and knees: With your knee bent, lift each leg off the ground while contracting the muscles in your thighs. Next, hold each knee with both hands and lift your leg to your chest repeating the motion with the other leg.
  • Shoulders, back, and neck: Do a shoulder roll by rotating them toward your ears in circles. Do arm lifts by placing your hands on the arm rests and bend them upwards at the elbow. Flex your entire body forward by placing your hands on your knees. Slowly walk your hands down your shins while moving your body forward. To stretch your neck muscles relax your shoulders and tilt your head from side to side so your ear reaches toward the shoulder.

More exercises and descriptions can be found on the Boeing website.

Finally, please recognize that you are on an airplane with other travelers and their comfort is just as important as yours. The flight attendants are also there to make your trip pleasant so ask questions courteously and don’t treat them disrespectfully.

How do you stay comfortable and avoid pain during holiday flights?

Image by cybot586 via Flickr

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