As I am writing this I am midair somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on my way to Hanoi in Vietnam. It is my second longer flight in just a few days and how to prevent getting stiff from all that sitting and speed up recovery is on my mind.
So what can you do to help yourself? My all time favorite is to use the lacrosse ball for the hamstrings and part of the glutes (butt). With all that sitting, blood circulation is compromised, especially in the legs. This creates a lot of stiffness which besides making you move like an old grandma also can have longer lasting effects on your hips and knees. This is due to muscles becoming tight and therefore restricting full extension of the hip and knee, for example being able to straighten the leg completely. If you don’t get this taken care of immediately then pretty soon you can end up with low back pain due to the altered way of moving.
How to avoid all of this stuff? Whenever you can – get up and move a bit extra. It is often said to walk around the cabin as much as you can, but I tend to find this very challenging. Instead I try to add in some squats (and lateral lunges if space permits) every time I get up and go to the bathroom. As a minimum I do 10 squats before and 10 squats after.
When you get back into your seat use the lacrosse ball. You might be able to use a tennis ball but I don’t recommend it as I find it too soft against the seat.
Put the lacrosse ball under one of your hamstrings and then do small, slow movements across the ball with your leg. You can also move your lower leg from side to side and back and forth. There really is no right and wrong here so just try a few different angles and see what works for you. Then after a minute or two move the ball to another area and go through the same procedure. Once you have worked your way through one hamstring move the ball to the next.
I like to do this while watching a movie, and during a 10-12 hour flight I tend to do this at least 4 times. It is a huge help and as you only do small movements with the leg you are not jeopardizing to disturb your fellow passenger, which is a plus.
Of course you can do this on shorter flights too, or actually during any prolonged sitting. I have used this technique during long lectures for instance. Keeping the blood circulation as good as possible in your legs is also very important in preventing blood clots forming. You can read more about that here. I also find that compression socks are a great help. Make sure that you get some good ones that fit you correctly so that they are tight enough but not so tight that they are completely constricting you. You don’t want to feel as if an anaconda is eating its way up your leg! By measuring the width of your calf you should be able to find the right size for you.
The Using the lacrosse ball technique on my hamstrings have really saved me on many long flights so if there is just one thing you should try for your next flight, then try that.
Wishing you happy travel adventures 😉
Here is a motivational video for some more mobility on your next flight.
Air travel health tips from Harvard