Specialising in musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, spinal and sports rehabilitation

Tips for Surviving a Long Haul Flight

Going somewhere nice? Lucky you! Or maybe it’s yet another business trip which involves a 7-plus hour flight and if you’re flying economy then you will already be mentally preparing yourself for the pain (during) and stiffness (after) that goes hand-in-hand with long haul flights. Unfortunately, no amount of complimentary liqueur is going to help with that.

And why is sitting for such a long period of time so awful, I hear you ask? Early studies have shown that a seated posture not only increases the pressure of the musculature but can also increase intra-discal pressure. The backward rotation of the pelvis, needed for sitting, is the cause for this increase in pressure. Although seated, the muscles are statically having to work to maintain position, therefore they can become fatigued which will lead to acute discomfort. Finally, the flexion created at the knees and hips from reduced leg room will lead to tight hip flexors and hamstrings.

So we’ve come up with some simple tips that aim to get you off the ground!


  1. Think ahead, what do you need to make you as comfortable as possible? Think about taking on board a lumbar support or an extra cushion to support your lower back. Or a head and neck cushion to prevent your head rolling forward as your start to fall asleep. Or ask the cabin crew for an extra cushion and make them aware of your pain.


  1. Baggage! You’ve packed everything apart from the kitchen sink for your 2 day trip and your ‘hand luggage’ is anything but. Don’t lug around more than you can comfortably carry, get a trolley, wear a comfortable backpack, ask someone to help you put your bag in the overhead locker. Lifting weights is for the gym and you’re on holiday now!


  1. Move around regularly. If you’re not sleeping then try and keep mobile to prevent tightness and stiffness. Walk up to the other end of the plane, have a little stretch while waiting for loo. In your chair you could pull your toes up towards your shins for a stretch or rise up and down on your toes to keep the blood flowing. Anything that keeps you moving.


  1. Following on from tip 2 consider the time you fly and the seat you pick. No one wants to be woken up multiple times so you can get up and have a stretch. So think about booking an aisle seat, or even investigate whether flying at a certain time will ensure your flight is less busy; spare seats and more room.


  1. Painkillers and Heat: if you have medication that you know helps ease your pain make sure it’s in your hand luggage and you have been taking it regularly up to that point, not just as and when you pain becomes a problem. You could take some disposable heat strips with you onto the plane which will work over several hours.


  1. Relax: try and keep calm. We know that stress and emotional factors will only make pain worse so keep your trip as hassle free as possible (by arriving on time), and use techniques such as mindfulness and positive imagery to keep you ‘flying high’.


  1. Muscular effort in sitting has been shown to be greater than that of standing, so when you’ve touched down ensure you are working hard with your physiotherapist to strengthen your back and core muscles and give yourself the best chance of preventing future pain that keeps you from hitting cloud nine.


Gkikas, N. ed., 2012. Automotive ergonomics: driver-vehicle interaction. CRC Press.



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